After a 60-day hiatus, Air Chathams landed at Whanganui Airport last Sunday, signalling a resumption of flights between Auckland and Whanganui.
The Saab 340 turbo-prop aircraft, ZK-KRA, with crew members Mitch Brady, Tim Gilbertson and Nicki Hayes flew in on a drizzly afternoon just after 4 o'clock.
Under new alert level 2 restrictions, only passengers, crew and airport staff are allowed in the airport buildings and Covid-19 protocols have to be followed.
People checking on to an Air Chathams flight now receive a face mask, hand sanitiser and an individually wrapped Tim Tam biscuit, says Air Chathams Port Manager Jeremy Nickel.
On hand was Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall, wearing high-vis vest and chain of office, greeting passengers as they alighted from the aircraft, welcoming them to Whanganui.
"I'm delighted to see Whanganui rally behind Air Chathams. It's a good sign that we are on the path to recovery and great to get the air route open again for visitors as well. From here, I want to encourage our whole community to get behind Air Chathams and utilise this critical service we have on our doorstep," he says.
This was the Mayor's first official function in two months.
Through lockdown there was still work to be done at the airport, says Airport Manager Phil McBride. The runway had to be checked daily to make sure lights were working and to check for debris and wildlife, dead or alive. He says birds, particularly oystercatchers, have been using the hard surface to crack shellfish, feeding on the flesh and leaving the shells littering the runway.
Now, he says, flights are on the way to returning to normal.
"Before lockdown started they were doing 36 flights a week, 18 in, 18 out, and now they're doing 24, 12 in, 12 out. That's until something changes, rules relax or passenger numbers revert to what they were before."
Social distancing applies on all flights, unless passengers are members of the same family bubble.
"The cafe is closed until such time as we go to level 1," Phil says.
The family-run airline is pleased to be back.
"Air Chathams and the Emeny family are overwhelmed by the messages of support received from the Whanganui community and its business leaders. Covid-19 has been a huge blow to our airline but we are excited and motivated to rebuild and continue to provide the safe, reliable service our reputation has been built on," says Duane Enemy, Air Chathams' General Manager.
"I have been encouraged by the collective approach taken by our council, Whanganui business leaders and the Whanganui & Partners team to support the reopening of this critical air route for our economy," says Pahia Turia, the chair at Whanganui & Partners.