Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says Kiwis in the regions get better treatment from second-hand car dealers than Air NZ, and has issued a call to arms for regional mayors to save provincial flights.
And he has directly asked the Air NZ board, in particular Sir John Key, to start paying attention to the regions.
"[National's] former leader is on the board ... He can change the strategy. He can change the priorities. It should be imminently obvious to them that time for change is right upon them."
Shareholding minister Grant Robertson downplayed the comments: "We will continue to look at the composition of the board through the normal processes."
Jones has turned up the heat on his earlier comments to Air NZ's regional affairs manager Ian Collier to stop "closing down regional air links ... and take that message to your supervisors."
Air New Zealand chairman Tony Carter returned serve this afternoon, writing to Robertson to reinforce the airline's independence of the Crown.
Carter noted Jones' criticism while also talking about the Crown's 51 per cent stake in the airline.
"Any appearance of a lack of commercial independence is viewed seriously by the Air New Zealand board and is ultimately potentially damaging to the interests of all shareholders, including the Crown," Carter said.
In 2015, Air NZ axed its twice-daily flights to Kaitaia and a number of other regional centres, but it has boosted aircraft size and flights to Kerikeri.
Earlier this month, the airline gave three weeks' notice that it would end flights to the Kapiti Coast, prompting National's Otaki MP Nathan Guy to call it a "shocking" decision and launch a petition to save the service.
This afternoon Jones said that Air NZ had deliberately degraded provincial services to boost company profits.
"They've taken a strategy to increase profit by downgrading provinces. Then they decided within three weeks to bail out of Kapiti. Hell, you get better rights for buying a second hand car than three weeks.
"I'm not going to stop talking about it. My whole phone system has been clogged by our fellow Kiwis ringing with tales of woe about Air NZ in the provinces."
Air NZ should "put their money where their mouth is" when it comes to helping provincial providers.
"Apparently they left behind as a type of support for the smaller carriers, potentially [Air] Chathams, something like some old baggage handling gear. That's a joke.
"I'd actively encourage mayoral leaders in the provinces to bring forward solutions. We need, in my view, a policy for regional airlines."
He said he had asked officials at the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment to start work on what could be done for provincial connectivity, under his ministerial portfolio of Associate Transport.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government was not interfering with Air NZ, and that Jones was merely expressing his opinion.
"That doesn't mean we will have any ability or intent to take away the independent decision-making of a business like Air NZ," she said.
National's Spokesperson for Economic & Regional Development Paul Goldsmith said it was up to Air NZ to make its own decisions, but "I want to see all our regions well served by our national airline".
"They have to work through whether particular regions stack up. I would hope, particularly in Kapiti, that they would think very carefully before they cut down anything in that area."
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said it was not inappropriate for Jones to comment, given that Nathan Guy had also launched a petition advocating for the regions.