Air Chathams benefits from Air New Zealand dropping regional routes

Air New Zealand's departure from regional airports such as Kapiti has annoyed many travellers - but provided opportunities for the national carrier's smaller rivals.

Air Chathams is at the front of the queue to replace Air New Zealand on the Kapiti route.

Air Chathams operates more than 12 planes on routes criss-crossing regional New Zealand.

But just four years ago the company was struggling.

It was forced out of its Tonga service - Chathams Pacific - and back to square one in the Chathams.

Air Chathams general manager Duane Emeny said: "It was a tough time for us when we withdrew from Tonga. It was a neat little airline we had up there, operating five different types of aircraft, we had a staff of almost a hundred people in the Kingdom of Tonga."

But the company stuck with its bread and butter routes from the Chatham Islands.

And when Air New Zealand dropped its Whanganui and Whakatane to Auckland routes in 2016, Air Chathams - headed by owner Craig Emeny and his son, General Manager Duane - swooped in to fill the gap.

What were waning services, are now performing even better, with passenger numbers up across the board.

"The community in Whanganui really love it and they really love Air Chathams. We've actually carried 5,000 passengers more than Air New Zealand did over the past 12 months," Mr Emeny said.

Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne says the change has left the region better off.

"It has been a blessing in disguise, because when they initially pulled out, with shock horrors we thought that we weren't going to have any service."

The airline is now looking at buying a jet to add to its more than a dozen strong fleet.

And by the end of the year, it hopes to have an Auckland to Kapiti route and New Zealand's only direct flight to Australia's Norfolk Island.

Despite the expansion, Duane Emeny says at the end of the day- Air Chathams is a family business with big decisions made around the kitchen table.

"It's quite neat actually myself and my father Craig get to have some robust discussion about how the company should be run.. he generally wins those. But the neat thing is I've got my younger brother coming into the company too so I've got a bit of extra support there now."

Air Chathams will find out if its won its bid to take over the Kapiti Coast route from Air New Zealand later this month.

Air NZ says the routes it's dropped are now uneconomic, as it operates a very different fleet to Air Chathams.