Regional airports at risk from closure

Up to 12 regional airports around the country are at risk of closing unless the Government steps in to help, the New Zealand Airports Association (NZAA) claims.

The NZAA wants more than $30 million in funding to help ensure the small, isolated airports remain viable.

Whakatane Airport is one of 11 regional airports facing a funding crisis.

NZAA chief executive Kevin Ward said ratepayers from Kaitaia, at the top of the North Island, to Timaru, down south, are affected.

"The councils are really desperate to keep those airports open and they've been doing it for years, even though it's costing the ratepayers," he told Newshub.

A new report by the NZAA says that's not viable and it's not fair.

"It's going to be a gradual decline and once something goes, the aircraft just can't fly in anymore because it's not safe," Mr Ward said.

Just over 156,000 passengers used Gisborne Airport last year. It's just enough to cover operating costs, but nowhere near enough to fund essential infrastructure projects like an upgraded terminal.

"The demand for tourism has been increasing, the bigger planes have arrived and definitely we need some support," Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon told Newshub.

It's not just tourists and locals using the country's regional airports. Between 6000 and 10,00 patients and medical staff fly between smaller towns and city hospitals every year.

The Airports Association wants the Government to stump up $32 million over five years to help ensure the survival of smaller airports.

But Transport Minister Simon Bridges says the situation is nowhere near as bad as the report suggests.

"I don't subscribe to some sort of, as I say, crisis scenario," he said.

"I think our regions are going well and those airports in them are also going very well."

He says he'll talk with the association but can't commit to more than that.