Air New Zealand is considering restoring flights to Wānaka as part of a plan to grow its regional network by 20 per cent during the next five years.
The airline copped flak for its handling of its pull-out from Kāpiti earlier this year, however, chief executive Christopher Luxon in a note to staff said the company was committed to ensuring all regional centres currently receiving air services would continue to do so.
''In addition, we are actively considering options for other ports, such as Wānaka,'' Luxon said.
The airline flew there from Christchurch between March 2004 and 2013 through its subsidiary Eagle Air using a Beech 1900D.
Timing, cost, and unreliability of flights were reported to be factors in its demise.
However, since then the tourist town has boomed and Wānaka Airport has expanded, with occasional charter and private jet flights.
The Otago Daily Times reported in March that tourism injected an estimated $502million annually into the Wānaka economy, creating jobs and sustaining livelihoods.
The region has been ranked the top in New Zealand for percentage growth in visitor spend for more than two years, recording 17 per cent growth this past year on top of 20 per cent growth the previous year.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has been a vociferous critic of Air New Zealand's provincial operations and yesterday again attacked the airline after revelations of domestic fare increases.
''The people of Gisborne, the people of Whangārei have pointed out the flights are so regularly cancelled that they're wondering whether Air New Zealand should permanently own a bus service,'' Jones said.
In his note to staff Luxon said the regional aviation market in New Zealand had never been more vibrant or healthy.
''Air New Zealand competes with Jetstar, from the four times larger Qantas Group, in the bigger regional centres''
The airline pulled out of Westport, Whakatāne and Kaitāia following a review in 2014.
Luxon said the airline was losing $1m a month, or $52 per customer on a return journey, flying to 15 towns across New Zealand in inefficient and expensive 19-seater aircraft.
''Clearly it would have been unsustainable and irresponsible not to confront this reality – so we totally overhauled and reset our regional business and network to deliver sustainable future air services and lower pricing to regional customers,'' he said.
''The bottom line is that we have grown our services to regional New Zealand at twice the rate of New Zealand's GDP growth and at the same time have been able to lower average regional fares by 6.25 per cent since 2015.''