The Northland Regional Council has backed councillor Dover Samuels' call to defend Kaitaia's daily air service to and from Auckland.

Mr Samuels raised his concerns with the council last week, chairman Bill Shepherd agreeing that the service was important to Kaitaia in terms of economic development, business and social reasons, but current operator Barrier Air was struggling to attract enough passengers.

The airline had warned that without an upsurge in business it too may soon be forced to drop the service it "inherited" in April after Air NZ cancelled its service.

"If Barrier Air is forced to abandon its Kaitaia service too, my councillors and I feel there's a very real risk the airport will not be maintained and not be available to cater for future demand," Mr Shepherd said, adding that the airport was essential for flying in medical specialists for Kaitaia Hospital, while councillors expected development on Karikari Peninsula in particular was likely to increase demand for flights into Kaitaia "in time".


Councillors, in particular his fellow Coastal North constituency representative, Mr Samuels, a former Cabinet minister, were also frustrated at what they felt was an "unhelpful" attitude towards Barrier Air by Air NZ.

"Dover was in Cabinet when an economically struggling Air NZ went cap in hand, looking for more than $800 million to keep itself going, and during this period it strongly emphasised its economic development and social responsibilities," Mr Shepherd said.

"Now servicing the regions from a social responsibility perspective appears to come a very distant second to commercial drivers, the latter prompting Air NZ to abandon its services to Kaitaia and some other provincial centres last year."

Despite Barrier Air stepping in to fill the void left in Kaitaia by that withdrawal, Air NZ did not seem to be "particularly helpful" in allowing any integration of Barrier Air flights from Kaitaia into Air NZ's network from Auckland.

"This makes it difficult for Barrier Air to attract passengers to their Kaitaia flights. Potential passengers are choosing to drive to Kerikeri so they link into the network," he said.

Barrier Air chief executive Michael Foster said the company had been trying to reach an agreement with Air NZ so that passengers transferring to other flights in Auckland would be able to book their luggage through to their end destination.