Tomorrow marks five years since Air Chathams ran its first flight from Whanganui to Auckland after Air New Zealand pulled out of the route.
Logan Tutty talks to those involved in discussions at the time and what it means to have flights out in and out of the city.
Former Whanganui mayor Annette Main says Air New Zealand's 2016 decision to pull out of Whanganui took her by surprise.
"They said they were going to stop their flights out of Whanganui, but it would be all good because we had a regional airport in Palmerston North. For us, it was quite a betrayal."
Whanganui MP at the time, Chester Borrows, got in touch with the Emeny family behind Air Chathams as soon as heard the news to see what they could to do fill the void.
"They were very helpful and had not long taken over the Whakatane run that Air NZ had abandoned. But they were incredible. They came on, they kept the same timetable Air NZ had."
Main said: "It was just fabulous news and we started discussions as to how we could help them through that process."
Air Chathams' chief operating officer Duane Emeny, said relationships with Air NZ helped facilitate the move into Whanganui.
"That all happened quite quickly. There was a mini tender, there were other airlines canvassed for the role but we were the preferred choice."
The move didn't come without risk, with Air Chathams having to invest in a new plane to get the route up and running.
"It was really tough. Like you do, when you build a new air route, you lose a lot of money. We were around $450,000 on the wrong side of the ledger and it took us about 10 months to correct that," Emeny said.
"I think we managed to prove the value in those rural connections.
"What Air Chathams has been able to do, especially with Whanganui, is prove just how important and essential those connections to major centres of commerce are."
Whanganui and Partners Chief Executive Hannah Middleton said Air Chathams' flights were essential to the health of the local economy and many Whanganui businesses depended on the service.
"The availability of direct flights maintains Whanganui's profile as a place with great infrastructure, where the logistics around doing business are straightforward and where connections are direct and uncompromised."
Main said it was crucial to keep that direct link from Whanganui to Auckland open and alive for many reasons.
"The big one was for businesses. Many of them have head offices in Auckland and there was quite a flow of business traffic. But also, it was at a time when we were trying to encourage Aucklanders to think about Whanganui as a place to live.
"I think some of them will regret they didn't do that back then and are now trying."
By offering flights to Auckland, it would give those who have moved to Whanganui the opportunity to still travel between the two regularly and easily.
"It was around keeping Whanganui accessible and attractive as a destination. It was so important," Main said.
Air Chathams estimates they've had over 10,000 flights and carried more than 200,000 passengers on the route over the last five years.
Borrows said events such as Vintage Weekend, Cemetery Circuit and Open Studios were key to raising Whanganui's profile and to build upon these, an air link to Auckland was necessary.
Air Chathams currently runs 16 return flights a week from Whanganui to Auckland.
Middleton said the frequency of flights meant businesspeople, residents and visitors could fly directly to Whanganui rather than adding Palmerston North to their itineraries, or choosing not to come to Whanganui at all.
"This keeps all the discretionary spending that happens around airports, transfers and travel in Whanganui."
She said having direct flights encouraged people to consider Whanganui as a viable option.
While Palmerston North was about an hour's drive away, Main said by the time people organised all the logistics required and the additional time for the journey, it would take you twice as long to get to Auckland.
"It's nowhere near as simple as taking a five minute drive out to Whanganui Airport. Also, we had a airport and we needed it to viable."
Main applauded Air Chathams for stepping up when they did.
"It was a risk. Even though we felt Whanganui people wouldn't welcome the option of travelling to Palmerston North to catch flights, it was still a risk. It is quite hard to compete with major airlines and I give them full credit as a family airline for taking that risk."
Borrows thanked all the locals for getting right behind Air Chathams and supporting them over the last five years.
"Quite honestly, the Emeny family and Air Chathams have a history of community involvement. We knew they had a big commitment to provincial New Zealand, and they have gone on to show that."
Emeny said Whanganui's support had been great. The next step would be continuing discussions with Air NZ to connect Air Chathams flights with their
"That will allow districts like Whanganui to be visible again on that global website through Air NZ, so that will be our focus over the next 12 months.
"It's been a fun five years, we feel a part of the community. We've all learnt something about Whanganui and how beautiful the city is."
Air New Zealand was approached for comment.