The claimant group that lobbied for the region's airport to be renamed Ahuriri Airport Hawke's Bay could become a half-owner of the facility through its treaty settlement.
Mana Ahuriri Incorporated has been offered "right of first refusal" for the government's 50 per cent shareholding in Hawke's Bay Airport Limited as part of its ongoing $20 million-plus Treaty of Waitangi claim settlement negotiations with the Crown.
Asked if the group was interested in taking up the airport share offer, Mana Ahuriri deputy chairman Piri Prentice said yesterday it was too early to say because negotiations were continuing.
If Mana Ahuriri were to pick up the Crown's half of the airport - worth several million dollars - it would become a joint owner with Napier City Council and Hastings District Council which have 26 per cent and 24 per cent stakes respectively.
Hawke's Bay Today revealed last week that the airport company board had agreed to a Mana Ahuriri request to change the facility's name to Ahuriri Airport Hawke's Bay.
The change will probably occur late next year to coincide with completion of a planned $5 million airport terminal upgrade.
The move has been met by widespread opposition from Hawke's Bay Today readers, although it also has its strong supporters, including Napier Mayor Bill Dalton.
Mr Prentice said the treaty group had approached the airport shareholders and the board about the name change because it wanted the company to acknowledge the history of the area where the airport was located and its historic connection with Ahuriri hapu.
He compared the name change to a recent decision by the District Health Board to change the official name of Hawke's Bay Soldiers' Memorial Hospital back to its original name, Hawke's Bay Fallen Soldiers' Memorial Hospital.
"While [the airport name-change] is significant and welcomed, there is an acceptance by the mana whenua [local Maori] that to most the airport will remain known as the Hawke's Bay airport - just as the hospital will be known to most as the Hawke's Bay hospital," he said.
"People coming to Hawke's Bay will fly into the airport located in Napier, known to most as the Hawke's Bay Airport but officially known as Ahuriri Airport Hawke's Bay. Why is the changing of the name of the hospital to acknowledge history deemed to be acceptable and yet the changing of the name of the airport, to again acknowledge history, deemed to be unacceptable?"
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said his council had met informally with Mana Ahuriri and indicated it was not opposed to the name change if the group became a shareholder, subject to confirmation through a more "formal approval" council process and agreement from Napier City Council.
"I'm hearing significant community concern about what's been done and I think the airport board probably needs to look at some form of consultation if it's considering changing the name," Mr Yule said.
Napier Mayor Bill Dalton said he remained completely supportive of the name change and agreed with Mr Prentice's observation that the airport would continue to be referred to as Hawke's Bay Airport or Napier Airport.
"All this talk of the incredible cost to make the change is just nonsense. It's been decided it should be done when they refurbish the airport so all the signage is going to be re-done anyway," Mr Dalton said.
"There's going to be no cost involved, it simply shows respect and acknowledgement of an historical fact that the airport is sited in Ahuriri."
Mana Ahuriri's settlement claim has been in the pipeline for several years and a deed of settlement is expected to be signed with the Crown within the next few months.
Legislation finalising the settlement, along with several others affecting hapu across Hawke's Bay, is expected to be passed next year.