Community leaders from Northland's biggest city are calling for new Auckland Covid-19-bypass flights from Whangārei.
Steve Smith, NorthChamber chief executive, said it was not okay there were none of these direct bypass flights to or from Whangārei while Auckland was in level 4.
They were essential in addition to the Kerikeri to Wellington direct flights that started on September 13.
Northland is currently in level 2 but is effectively cut off from the rest of New Zealand by Auckland's level 4 status.
All regular mainstream Northland flights transit through Auckland airport. Its current
status means Northlanders can only go through
the airport on a strictly-limited essential services basis. Recreational travel is not allowed.
Air New Zealand currently has seven Whangārei-Auckland flights a week.
Its recently-introduced Kerikeri to Wellington-direct flights link the country's level 2 regions, boosting access and recreational travel. They are currently scheduled to end on September 29.
Smith said it was important Whangārei-based people from Northland's most populous district could connect directly with the rest of the country without going through Auckland. Businesspeople wanted to supplement ongoing internet-based communication with face-to-face interaction and there was a need for people to be able to fly for recreational purposes.
He said he had been inundanted by businesses and public servant employers from around Whangārei district asking why a flight from the city bypassing Auckland had not also been put in place.
Almost 100,000 people live in Whangārei district - just over half of Northland's 195,000 population. Whangārei is Northland's biggest city and its commercial centre, home to many regional head offices.
Direct Auckland-Covid-19-bypass flights out of Northland from Whangārei were discussed at yesterday's Whangārei District Council (WDC) strategy, planning and development committee meeting.
Cr Carol Peters said it was not acceptable for Whangārei to effectively be cut off from the rest of New Zealand.
She said there would undoubtedly be other lockdowns.
"The 2020s decade will be the decade of the lockdown," Peters said.
Covid-19 resilience for Whangārei city and district therefore needed addressing.
Smith said options included the new Kerikeri-Wellington direct flight, bunnyhopping in and out of Whangārei too, en route. Another was Whangārei to Hamilton direct flights.
Kaipara Mayor Dr
Jason Smith said direct flights out of Whangārei that bypassed Auckland were definitely required.
He said the people of lower Northland had to drive two hours to Kerikeri airport to catch the new trial flights.
Air New Zealand did not comment specifically on whether Whangārei-based Auckland Covid-19 bypass flights would be considered.
An Air New Zealand spokesperson said the Kerikeri to Wellington direct flights were an interim solution to keep Northland connected to the rest of the country while Auckland was at an elevated Covid-19 alert level.
Tony Horton, WDC manager district development, said there had been ongoing discussion with Air New Zealand about the Whangārei-direct flights.
These would continue.
Auckland bypass flights have not been operating out of Whangārei as Onerahi airport does not having the necessary refuelling gear for the type of plane to be used. This infrastructure is available at Kerikeri airport where the Bombardier Q300 turboprops are landing.
Horton said consideration around direct flights out of Whangārei had included looking at the merits of spending money on the necessary refuelling gear at Whangārei's Onerahi airport site, in light of its current lifespan.
Peters wanted to know about the potential for Covid-19 support funding being sought for the infrastructure.
She also sought information about whether the refuelling infrastructure could be installed at Onerahi in a mobile way, so that it could be shifted in future.
Cr Tricia Cutforth said Whangārei's future airport move might be on the books, but would likely not be happening for five or 10 years.
A solution to the Whangārei flights issue was needed before then.
She said WDC needed to advocate very strongly with Air New Zealand on the matter.
Peters said it was important Whangārei Auckland-bypass flights could happen in any future lockdowns where Northland faced similar issues being cut off from the rest of the country by level 4 lockdowns in Auckland.
Whangārei airport is jointly owned by WDC and the Ministry of Transport. It has been earmarked for a future location shift.