The last direct flight from Rotorua to Sydney left on Saturday afternoon, but all is not lost for Rotorua Airport.

Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said the airport would focus on obtaining regular Rotorua to Queenstown flights, and look to capitalise on surplus land at the airport.

Since 2009, the council had paid $9.13 million to Air New Zealand as part of a "joint venture marketing" programme to keep the flights in Rotorua.

Rotorua Airport, the Rotorua Lakes Council and Air New Zealand announced the termination of the Rotorua to Sydney direct flights in October. They said the budget was best invested elsewhere - a decision supported by the airport company and Air New Zealand.

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Mr Donaldson said the airport played a crucial role in the city's economy. "We are looking at different ways to increase direct services between Queenstown and Rotorua, if we can get them. That's been clearly identified by Destination Rotorua as contributing to the length of stay and the number of international visitors.

"We are looking at bigger capacity on some of our routes. We know capacity was lost when Qantas pulled out.

The last direct flight to Sydney took off on Saturday afternoon and was farewelled by staff at the airport. Photo / Ben Fraser
The last direct flight to Sydney took off on Saturday afternoon and was farewelled by staff at the airport. Photo / Ben Fraser

"There is on-going work being done. We are also looking at unlocking the potential of surplus land at the airport.

"We have seen the success of Tauranga airport, even though they cannot extend their runway, they have a lot of commercial rental area."

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick previously told the Rotorua Daily Post suspending the route was a prudent financial move. "Our decision to stop funding the flights is part of the process we have been going through to ensure greater financial clarity, transparency and efficiency," she said.

"The anticipated boost from transtasman flights hasn't happened and council considers the funding that has been going to that service can be better used in other areas."