High-profile businessman Mike Pero has said he's in talks with an overseas airline to launch direct flights between the South Island and the Cook Islands, and that the service could be running within a few months.
He said the discussions do not involve Air New Zealand, but are with a global airline that is well known to New Zealanders and is based in a country with a different timezone.
Pero has been publicly pushing for an air bridge between Aotearoa and the Cook Islands to save the nation's economy and has now revealed just how involved in the logistics he is.
"In desperation to get something going, I took it upon myself to find out what was available in the way of charter flights and we are very close to bringing together a deal with a recognised airline," he told Newshub.
"It's not Air NZ. I wanted it to be Air NZ, but they don't have the resources."
He said plans to operate direct flights between Christchurch and the Cook Islands have been "on the go" for six weeks and the direct route would mean just a five-hour journey from the South Island, rather than via Auckland which can add hours to the trip.
"It means South Islanders can take daytime flights at good prices and avoid Auckland, which they generally like to do," Pero said.
The Christchurch-Rarotonga route has previously been flown by both Virgin Australia and Air NZ.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern poured cold water on those dreaming of a tropical escape, saying there were no imminent announcements about opening the border.
"There are no set dates yet, and any speculation at this stage would be very premature. The number one priority will continue to be the safety of both New Zealand and Realm countries. No one wishes to be responsible for COVID-19 entering into the Pacific," a spokesperson for the Prime Minister's office told Newshub.
Tourism operators in the Cook Islands have said that come September, if they don't have any tourism income, they will be forced to take out loans.
"They will be looking to borrow money from offshore, possibly Asia, and that would not be good for them, or for New Zealand," Pero said.
Last week, he said the Cook Islands would "become part of China" if New Zealand doesn't help resuscitate its tourism industry.
Pero said the Christchurch-Rarotonga service could be up and running by the next school holidays, which start in October.