Coronavirus: Some communities could lose regional air links as airlines struggle to get funding

Some communities could lose their regional air links as small airlines struggle to get enough funding to continue.

Sounds Air is calling on the Government for support, while Air Chathams is relying on essential freight flights to the Chatham Islands to stay afloat.

When Air New Zealand pulled its Kapiti flights two years ago, the community rallied for an alternative.

"We fought really hard to get Air Chathams into Kapiti because it's crucial to our economy - to have that link straight into our largest city," said Kapiti Coast Chamber of Commerce chair Jacinda Thorn.

But that link is now under threat as the lockdown grounds Air Chathams' regional passenger flights.

As part of the Government's aviation support package, it's flying essential medical supplies and food to the Chatham Islands - with three return trips each week from Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

"It really has become the lifeline for the airline," Air Chathams general manager Duane Emeny said.

But that lifeline needs to extend to passenger flights if it's going to survive.

"We're definitely going to have to have some straight-up conversations with all of the councils that we currently operate services," said Emeny.

The picture is even bleaker for Sounds Air - .a regional airline linking the north and south islands. It's receiving the wage subsidy but has a stark warning if no additional funding is received.

"Let's not beat around the bush this could be the end, no doubt about it," managing director Andrew Crawford told Newshub.

"It's critical that we get back up and running and keep the regions functioning because this is going to be a very domestically-based economy."

It's clear the community doesn't want that and a petition set up by National MP Stuart Smith has gathered nearly 20,000 signatures.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford told Newshub his ministry's been in intense talks with Sounds Air on a support package and he's confident there is a future for smaller airlines in New Zealand's aviation sector.