Passenger numbers have increased at Nelson Airport with the arrival of new airlines. "Extraordinary" growth in air travel over the past year has seen record breaking numbers through Nelson Airport and an additional 400 flights in and out of the terminal each week.
The number of airlines in Nelson have doubled in the past year with six now flying to seven different destinations across New Zealand. There was an additional 30,000 passengers in 2015 compared to five years ago. The new airlines include Jetstar, Originair and Kiwi Regional.
Passenger numbers rose 18 per cent in December 2015 compared to December 2014 with 80,210 people passing through the terminal, said Nelson Airport chief executive Rob Evans.
"December was a record breaking month for the airport ... people visiting the airport would have noticed this increase in flights as the terminal and carpark have been extremely busy over the last few months," he said.
The airport has employed a new terminal supervisor Simon Trillo in a bid to keep up with the growth, Evans said.
Jetstar's service between Auckland and Nelson, introduced in December, was met with enthusiasm from the public. Its first two direct flights from Nelson to Wellington are set to take off on Monday and are also looking promising, said spokesperson Phil Boeyen.
He said Nelson was the airline's busiest regional port with seven flights to Auckland and Wellington each day.
"The bookings are looking good, Auckland has had really high loads," he said.
In a Rotary speech on Wednesday, Nelson MP Nick Smith said the increase in passenger numbers was good, but the airport facilities were inadequate to keep up with demand.
He said annual passenger numbers through the airport had grown from 150,000 per year in 1990 to more than 750,000 in 2015. The number was likely to hit 1 million by 2020.
"People's first experience in Nelson currently is an over-crowded airport. This risks eroding our brand as a lifestyle centre where people can relax away from the hassles and crowds of big cities," he said.
He would make working with the Airport Company and the Nelson and Tasman District Councils a key priority for 2016, he said.
Kiwi Regional Airlines (KRA) chief executive Ewan Wilson said Nelson had been a key destination for the company, which also flies to Hamilton and Dunedin.
He said Nelson was at the centre of their upcoming expansion plans.
"We start our Tauranga to Nelson service next month and immediately the Nelson flights started to sell like hot cakes," he said.
He indicated the company was about to make further announcements that would involve Nelson.
"There might be a further step this year to add additional flying [to KRA] yet again - that will revolve around Nelson," he said.
"In the next couple of weeks we will start an overnight airplane service in Nelson on a Saturday night - we'll have the ability to operate a lot of charters out of Nelson and other exciting operations ahead."
The increase in passenger numbers have been reflected in visitor counts in the region, benefiting businesses.
Mapua's Cool Store Gallery owner Tricia Morrison said she had noticed a "huge" influx of customers, particularly North Islanders, since the launch of the new airlines.
"It's just made Nelson so accessible now ... you can just come down for a weekend as a family or in a group, I've noticed there's been lots of people like that in the gallery and I've been there 16 years," she said.
She noted that air fares had dropped considerably since the new airlines had arrived which had a "huge influence on people".
BY THE NUMBERS
Passengers through Nelson airport
2015: 764,050 +3 per cent
2014: 744,416 -3 per cent
2013: 765,266 +2 per cent
2012: 748,888 +2 per cent