Northland leaders are welcoming the return of Air New Zealand flights to the region, despite flights being slashed as the airline grapples with the fallout of Covid-19.
Air NZ is planning to operate about 20 per cent of its usual domestic services under level 2 but warns even when the country comes out of level 1, all domestic destinations will have fewer flights and reduced frequencies.
Northlanders also look set to pay more for flights than in pre-Covid days as social distancing restrictions mean passenger numbers must be halved.
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"We've been keen to start domestic air services as soon as practicably possible to support New Zealand's economic recovery and connect family, friends and businesses," Air NZ chief executive Greg Foran said.
"But the ramp-up to higher frequencies will be a slow journey and even when we come out of level 1, all of our domestic destinations will see fewer flights and reduced frequencies.
"This is the harsh reality of closed international borders and a depressed domestic economy, with more Kiwis in unemployment and people watching what they spend."
Before Covid-19, the airline operated up to four services per day to Whangārei and Kerikeri.
From Monday, there will be just one daily return service between Whangārei and Auckland, and one daily Auckland to Kerikeri return service.
The flight from Auckland to Whangārei will depart at 11.50am and the return flight will leave Whangārei at 12.55pm.
The Kerikeri flight will leave Auckland at 11.20am, and the return flight departs Kerikeri at 12.35pm.
Foran said during level 2, and until the removal of social distancing, the airline couldn't offer its lowest fares.
"One-metre social distancing means we can only sell just under 50 per cent of seats on our turboprop aircraft which operate to both Whangārei and Kerikeri," he said.
"On that basis, to ensure we cover our operating costs, we won't be able to offer our lowest lead-in fares until social distancing measures are removed.
"Our challenge at the moment, as with any airline, is resuming services that can pay their way when we can only offer fewer than half the seats on board the aircraft. Additional frequencies will be introduced back into the schedule as restrictions are further eased and as demand grows."
Northland MP Matt King welcomed the airline operating in the region again but said the sooner flights were back at full capacity the better.
"While we're in this temporary level 2 setting it's just killing business and commerce," he said.
"We've got enough data, we should be acting on it and going back to work. Every day counts."
King said the prices of flights looked okay so far; on Wednesday flights for next week ranged from $89 to $149 from the Bay of Islands to Auckland one way, while flights to Whangārei were from $69 to $149.
He said he was concerned about the economic effects of the alert level restrictions.
"I feel for Air NZ and the situation they're in. People have lost their jobs and they still have to pay their bills, but as soon as we get out of this social distancing the better."
The NZ Herald has reported more than 3000 staff are now being laid off from the airline.
An Air NZ spokeswoman said there had been no changes to staffing levels at either Northland port.
Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai was excited about the return of flights to the region.
"It's excellent we're getting a service starting on Monday. I'm hoping over time the demand will grow sufficiently to provide more services to the regions. This is a critical link."
Mai said while people had learned "different ways" of communicating, such as Zoom meetings, there would now be growing demand for a physical presence in meetings which would mean more people wanting to travel.
"It's a much more efficient use of our time if we can connect through an aeroplane link.
"We will find that demand will steadily grow and Air NZ will respond accordingly."
Whangārei MP Shane Reti said he was pleased the region still had an airline service.
Other regions such as Taupō, Hokitika and Timaru would only see a return of services when demand allowed, Air NZ has said.
"I understand productivity will be less because of social distancing, but Whangārei is going to get services back which recognises we are an important hub."
But the reduced service would mean more people would take to the roads, as cars became the main mode of transport, Reti said.
"This further adds to the argument for a four-lane highway from Whangārei to Auckland."
Paihia Taxis and Tours is offering transport to Auckland airport for people who need to travel.
Paihia Taxis and Tours co-owner Geoff Waterhouse said the reduced flights would be "devastating for the airport" which underwent a $4.75 million revamp last June.
"First of all, they spent all that money doing the airport up, and there's the café in there as well.
"Why would they open it up for one flight going out which would probably have no more that 25 people on it and one coming in?"
Regional economic development minister Shane Jones said Air NZ "had reached out" and was seeking a meeting with him which would also involve NZ First leader Winston Peters.
"We need to understand what their plan is," he said.
"We need to understand, what is their future fleet character and over what period of time will it take to boost productivity between our export powerhouses known as provincial New Zealand? We won't know until we have this candid exchange of views."
Foran said Air NZ would be working closely with Tourism New Zealand, regional tourism organisations, iwi partners and government agencies to encourage Kiwis to see more of the nation.