Hawke's Bay Airport could take a "leading role" in rethinking the way air traffic services are provided in New Zealand, according to Airways NZ.
The airport has joined Airways NZ, Gisborne Airport and New Plymouth Airport in a working group launched this week to collaborate on a plan for the future delivery of air traffic services in their regions and to "support growth in the post Covid-19 environment".
The initiative was announced a week after a pilots' group claimed the proposal to remove air traffic control staff at the airport was a risk to passenger safety that's "beyond belief".
Air Line Pilots' Association president Andrew Ridling said the move would "unnecessarily take New Zealand's risk levels to that of developing nations for no advantage".
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He said as aviation and tourism recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, it was puzzling as to why Airways was withdrawing the "safety-critical services".
But Airways NZ chief executive Graeme Sumner earlier said passenger safety and airline operations would not be affected by the decision to withdraw the services.
In May, Airways announced its intention to change the services it currently provides from seven regional aerodromes where it said commercial flight operations were limited.
"Technology and other developments are enabling safe and commercially viable alternatives to the way Airways has traditionally provided its air traffic services, and for a number of years Airways has been working with the aviation industry to reassess how these services are delivered through New Zealand's airspace to ensure they are fit for the future. The severe impact of Covid-19 on aviation globally has hastened the need for this work," a statement on Wednesday claimed.
Sumner said the working group was remaining "open minded" about what the future could look like.
"We recognise that regional airports play an essential role in keeping the country connected and in supporting local economies," Sumner said.
"Together we have an opportunity to develop new ways of operating that are safe, more efficient and can be tailored to regional needs now and into the future."
Aeronautical studies will be undertaken over coming months to clarify the air traffic service requirements of each of the airports in the working group before any new services can be planned and rolled out. These independent studies will take into account the unique aspects of each airspace environment. The Civil Aviation Authority will make the final decision on what type of service is needed for each airport.
Hawke's Bay Airport CEO Stuart Ainslie said he understood the proposed changes had created some uncertainty.
"But ... safety will definitely not be compromised with any new solutions adopted.
"A key part of the collaboration will be to engage closely with our airport stakeholders and the broader community to gain insight into the shaping of future plans," he said.
Alternatives to a full air traffic control service currently provided from New Zealand airport control towers include an Aerodrome Flight Information Service, or operating as an unattended aerodrome.
Airways was also investigating digital solutions.
"With airports worldwide recognising the benefits of these technologies in enhancing safety and resilience across a wide range of operations. Digital air traffic control towers are one of these technologies and are already operating at airports globally where regular passenger transport aircraft are flying."