A claimant group that could be offered a half-share in Hawke's Bay Airport is unlikely to want to on-sell its stake in the business, a Treaty of Waitangi settlement expert says.

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.

The group's deputy chairman, Piri Prentice, said the airport shareholding was still a matter for the negotiations but if it did become part of the settlement there was no intention for Maori to be short-term owners.

"Why would we do that when that whole area has an historical connection with the Ahuriri hapu and we've been fighting for it for years?" Mr Prentice said.

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Massey University history professor Michael Belgrave, a former Waitangi Tribunal research manager who continues to work on treaty research and settlements, said Mr Prentice's view reflected that of claimant groups generally.

Professor Belgrave said while a number of significant commercial assets, including the grounds of Waikato University, had been used to settle claims, he was unaware of a share of a strategic asset such as an airport previously being offered up by the Crown.

"Although this might be a precedent in terms of that type of public infrastructure, it doesn't surprise me and it doesn't seem extraordinary to me in any way," he said.

If the airport shares did change hands, Mana Ahuriri would co-own the business with Napier City Council, which has a 26 per cent stake, and Hastings District Council, which owns the other 24 per cent.

"I can see that it makes strategic sense for the claimants who would see this as being a really important part of their settlement because of the status they are recognised as having in the area. A joint partnership with local government is one of the key aspects of what iwi are wanting out of these settlements," Professor Belgrave said.

The sale of a significant share of an asset like the Hawke's Bay Airport to foreign interests would be unlikely to gain the required approval of the Overseas Investment Commission.

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