A scenic flight company more than three decades old is shutting down as the ongoing effects of Covid-19 border closures prove too tough to survive.
Mountain Air Volcanic Flights, which operates out of Ruapehu, announced its decision to close this week.
According to its website, Mountain Air was established as a scenic flight operation in 1988.
It is based at the Chateau Airfield on the edge of Tongariro National Park and has been owned by Bhrent and Kathy Guy since 2007.
Bhrent Guy told the Rotorua Daily Post closing the business was an "incredibly difficult" decision to make but "once we made it I saw the sense of it".
"When you've invested so much into a business - time, effort, money - you want to keep it going."
Guy estimates business has been down about 85 per cent.
"It's been a very tough year. We survived last March with the wage subsidy and we've survived with subsidies since. Had it not been for that we wouldn't have got through.
"I'm on a half salary, the pilot is on 80 per cent. We had to refinance against personal property but our income is down by about 85 per cent."
The business had already had to let one pilot go as international tourists made up 90 per cent of the business's income before Covid.
Guy acknowledged Kiwis had taken up the call to travel post-lockdown but said that only lasted about two months before income continued to steadily reduce.
"We were holding out hope for a trans-Tasman bubble. That has kept us going longer than we should have.
"We might have survived had it opened in January because 25 per cent of our clients were Australian ... We can't hold out hope any more."
He said they weren't able to "pivot" or offer large discounts because the cost of fuel, maintenance and compliance was still there.
He couldn't see another scenic flight operator setting up in the area.
"It's [a] big blow, in some respects."
The Facebook post announcing the closure said the company's last day would be March 29.
"While our small business has not survived this, we know we are just one of many which have suffered badly through this crisis. Our heartfelt thoughts go out to all of you in the tourism industry who are still struggling to survive," it said.
According to its website, Mountain Air has two small planes and offers flights around Tongariro National Park as well as private charters and inter-airport scenic flights. Guy said the two planes had been sold.
Ruapehu District Business Council chairwoman Andrea Messenger said Mountain Air was among the first of the local businesses to close and attributed that to a strong reliance on tourists across both summer and winter.
"We're smack in the middle of the North Island," said Messenger. "We've got the best one-day hike in New Zealand, so why wouldn't a New Zealander come here to experience it?
"We've got the biggest ski fields in the Southern Hemisphere so business is pretty constant through winter.
"We're very fortunate we've got two strong seasons here."
Messenger said some businesses were only operating on weekends but most had survived. It was sad to see Mountain Air close as it had been part of the region for a long time, she said.
"This is a pioneer of our region who set up tourism in its early stages. It's sad to see it's come to the end of its life."
Ruapehu District mayor Don Cameron agreed local tourism businesses had been faring better than expected as the area relied on overseas tourists for roughly 10 to 15 per cent of its business.
But he said smaller "low cost, low input" businesses were "holding their head above water" better than larger, high-value businesses with higher costs.
"We're situated between Wellington and Auckland so we're still getting traffic coming through but people are spending a little less every time.
"Some businesses are really suffering at the moment."
Cameron said few local businesses had closed and the council offered support and mentoring for small businesses.
Looking ahead to winter, Cameron was hopeful the winter ski season would be good, provided there was not another community Covid outbreak.
"It's mean to be a good snow year so as long as we're not in lockdown it should be a good year as far as winter goes."
He said local councils including in Taupō and Rotorua were working together to help each other and were hopeful a trans-Tasman travel bubble would open.
"It's really difficult for everyone. We do all really feel for Rotorua as it's far more reliant on overseas tourists, even more than Taupō."
Aviation New Zealand chief executive John Nicholson said it was difficult for aviation-related businesses to cut costs in order to survive because there are ongoing regulation and compliance costs and aircraft maintenance costs.
Some previously relied on the international tourist market for 97 per cent of income.
"Lack of customers is the main problem and that's brought about by the border being closed ... We've had many false starts just in terms of where we are now, waiting again for an April announcement.
"In the meantime companies are doing what they can to pick up the New Zealand market to get some customers and cash flow. The big issue they have is, as a generalisation, international tourists have been willing to pay for aviation experiences.
"Companies have to cut their cloth to provide something for the New Zealand market that gives them cash flow and allows them to meet costs."
Nicholson said he knew of some aviation companies trying to survive with 30 per cent of their normal turnover and many in the industry were reluctant to take out loans.
"Loans have to be paid back. Companies are only prepared to take them if they have got some certainty of future turnover. With the border closed, there's no certainty."
He said it was sad to see companies with owners who'd put in the time and effort to build up the company, such as Mountain Air, close.