Planespotters and friends and family waiting at New Plymouth airport were puzzled on Sunday evening as an Air New Zealand flight from Auckland appeared to be taking the scenic route between the two cities.
The flight, which usually takes around 35 minutes, took an hour and ten minutes.
Instead of the almost direct flight path south from Auckland to New Plymouth, flight NZ5051 - operated by an ATR 72-600 - took a different route, flying over Matamata, Tokoroa, Taupō and Waiouru, then turning in the direction of Patea before backtracking north up to New Plymouth.
Why did the flight take such a strange route?
Aircraft changing their direction is quite common especially when there is severe weather in the area. And, while New Plymouth is prone to some hefty storm activity, that wasn't the case at the weekend. And, it had nothing to do with the airline either.
The reason, it turns out, is because air space south of Auckland down to New Plymouth, known as the Raglan sector, was unattended on two occasions, from 2.15 to 2.45pm and then again between 4.30pm and 9.30pm.
In a statement from Airways New Zealand, the authority in charge of Aotearoa's airspace, a spokesperson said on this occasion it was a staffing issue that caused the incident.
"There were a number of staff unwell and unable to work at the same time. When a sector of controlled airspace is unattended, all airlines are briefed and aircraft are re-routed through other sectors, ensuring that they are able to continue flying safely," Airways NZ said.
Some aircraft continued to use the uncontrolled airspace however, and that's a decision that's left to the pilots and the airlines.
"Not all New Zealand airspace is managed by air traffic control. If a pilot or aircraft operator chooses to, they can continue to fly through an airspace sector that is normally controlled while it is unattended by following the same flight procedures they would in any other uncontrolled airspace," the spokesperson said.