Shane Jones, Air New Zealand trade barbs over regional flight decline

An almighty row has broken out between Air New Zealand and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones.

Mr Jones has blasted the airline for cancelling regional routes, saying it's far too focused on Auckland - and now, the airline has written to the Government to tell it to back off.

The Regional Development Minister unleashed on Air New Zealand on Tuesday, which Mr Jones is now referring to by another name - Air Auckland.

He's furious about the continued decline of regional flights.

"They've turned their back on small-town provincial New Zealand," he said.

And Mr Jones has turning up the heat, confronting an Air New Zealand representative in Kerikeri earlier in March. He told the staffer straight up what he thought of things.

"The board of Air New Zealand need to realise there's been an election and the consequence of that election is that they are no longer a colony of the National Party," he said.

He's angry because in 2010, the national carrier cancelled services in and out of Oamaru. Three years later, it did the same in both Wanaka and Masterton, and in 2014 scrapped Whanganui as well.

In recent years it's cancelled services to Kaitaia, Whakatane, Westport, and in just a few weeks, its Kapiti services will cease too.

Local National MP Nathan Guy isn't happy about that either.

"I'm disappointed with Air New Zealand's decision - it's very short sighted" he said.

"I don't think it's unreasonable for Air New Zealand to become more responsive to the expectations of its majority owner," Mr Jones said.

But airline chairman Tony Carter does think that's unreasonable, he told Newshub that "any appearance of a lack of commercial independence is viewed seriously by the Air New Zealand Board and is ultimately potentially damaging to the interests of all shareholders, including the Crown".

But Mr Jones is unrepentant, and now Finance Minister Grant Robertson has been implicated too.

"Well, as a shareholding minister we will continue to monitor the board through the normal processes," he said.

But there's nothing normal about today's spat, putting a Government and its airline in the brace position.