It has been a tough few months for Whanganui's much-loved Air Chathams but the company says it will be back, hoping to resume passenger services by the end of the month.

"We are very, very keen to get back into Whanganui," general manager Duane Emeny said. "It really is a big part of our business, a really important part of our business too.

"We've got a great following there, the business community all the way through to just your general leisure passenger, that loves flying with us."

The company has been in conversations with Whanganui District Council to help resume flights, and is expecting to hear back from them within the next 24 to 48 hours. From there it will be able to start its plan to rebuild the service.

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"At this stage we are forecasting to have flights back in the system before Queen's Birthday weekend," Emeny said.

Watch the video to find out how Tim Tams became the snack of choice on Chatham Air. Photo / By Bilby - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Watch the video to find out how Tim Tams became the snack of choice on Chatham Air. Photo / By Bilby - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

In a statement Whanganui District Council chief executive Kym Fell said there is significant support from elected council members to resume air services from Whanganui, and that discussions are under way around possible support packages. That may consist of a loan, concession considerations and potentially a joint contribution towards marketing Whanganui district.

The new flights will take fewer passengers to allow for physical distancing, and along with beefed-up cleaning and sanitising routines, the airline will introduce compulsory masks for passengers and crew.

"What we really want is people to jump on the flight, get off at the other end and be really impressed at what Air Chathams are doing 'that make me feel safe'," said Emeny.

While most of its fleet was parked up over lockdown, there were some unexpected contracts that saw them transporting everything from prisoners to crayfish. The lack of Air NZ flights connecting Queenstown, Christchurch and Auckland meant crayfish companies commissioned flights to Auckland, for crayfish to be exported internationally.

"We have picked up quite a lot of that work as well so that's really helped us out from a revenue point, just to keep things ticking over."

Despite the extra contracts, the interruption has still played havoc with the company's bottom line, and higher airfares will be inevitable until finances return to normal.

"I guess part of our 'support local effort' is that we are going to have some of our cheap flights in the system for the first couple of weeks, but after that - yes we will need to have a higher average fare."

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While welcoming customers back, the airline is keen to encourage them to consider going further than Auckland.

"Go and see the eastern Bay of Plenty," said Emeny. "Ohope Beach was rated New Zealand's favourite beach, I don't know how many years in a row. It is a beautiful spot, there's some amazing walks, you've got Motu trails with all the cycle trails."

And of course, Air Chathams flies "overseas".

"If you want to see something amazing, [there's] the place I grew up, the Chatham Islands," Emeny said.

Chatham Islands, the only
Chatham Islands, the only "overseas" destination currently available. Photo / Air Chathams

Passengers may even get to ride the fleet's star attraction - the Convair. The planes' retirement from service is inevitable due to the cost of upgrade requirements and it spells the end of an era for these iconic planes built to fly the islands.

"I can't say enough about that airplane, it's a 1960s design but it's been the mainstay of our fleet."

And as for those Tim Tams? They're not going anywhere.

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