New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says Whakatane and Taupo airports are at risk of going under, and has promised to give them a financial boost if he's part of the next government.

The mayors of the cities, Whakatane's Tony Bonne and Taupo's David Trewavas, have welcomed funding, saying investment in regional airports is essential to their growth and prosperity, much like funding other forms of transport.

Mr Peters announced the policy in Gisborne this week saying 12 airports around the country are facing an uncertain future due to funding pressures.

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"We can't reasonably expect small airports around the country to meet these huge costs," he said.

"We will provide much-needed funding for regional airports owned by local authorities to help pay for infrastructure improvements to meet safety standards."

This mirrored a New Zealand Airports Association report released in July calling on the Government for an increase in funding.

Mr Bonne said Whakatane Airport was operating at a loss - costing ratepayers and taxpayers - and did not have money for infrastructural upgrades.

"It's time airports were looked at just like any other transport. It's not just luxury transport now, it's transport that business needs," Mr Bonne said.

He said the half council-owned, half government-owned airport ran at a loss of about $100,000 a year, which was split evenly between the two owners.

"We're a small council. Ratepayers are subsidising the airport, but they feel it's an important community facility, so we feel quite comfortable doing that.

"But in reality, roads are subsidised, bus transport is subsidised, and rail - they don't get much subsidy, but there is government intervention there."

Mr Trewavas said the growth in tourism that has already occurred and was expected in the next 10 years required "urgent" upgrades in the airport.

"All our indicators are going up here - population increased, GDP increased above the national average, and tourism was up $100 million in the last year, so we are in urgent need of some infrastructure investment at the airport, so we would welcome any investment."

While the airport was entirely operational currently, he said the terminal needed upgrading to cope with any increase in traffic.

He said Whakapapa's $100m investment in the ski area and lifts would attract more domestic and international skiers, and result in more traffic at the airport.

"We think it needs a minimum of $10m investment.

"We certainly need help as far as infrastructure upgrades. We need to do it anyway. It's going to happen, it's just a matter of how we can line up the financials."

Taupo Airport was also half-council, half-government owned, and Mr Trewavas said any investment would be a joint venture.

New Zealand Airports Association chief executive Kevin Ward said air links around the country were essential, and have been "largely ignored" by successive governments.

"It is completely unfair to ask small isolated communities to fund this part of the national transport network. There's a national funding system for state highways. Millions of dollars are poured into roads and rail.

"For less than the cost of one bridge the Government could secure the future for local airports and air services."