Tauranga's newest airline partner, Kiwi Air, marked its first flight out of the city bound for Nelson yesterday with a plane full of passengers.
Arriving half an hour earlier from Nelson at 11.35am, the 34-seater SAAB340A aircraft taxied down the runway without fanfare.
The first passengers off the plane were Nelson resident Sheree Seyb, and her 19-month old daughter Edan, who were met by her sister Aleisha Turner, and son Cruz, 4, from Whakatane.
Ms Seyb, who was visiting her sister for two weeks, said the journey and service had been "absolutely brilliant" .
"It's Edan's first flight ever and she was so excited. I will definitely be flying with this airline again for sure. Not only was it a cheaper trip but it also cut the usual travel time by quite a bit."
Departing passengers Eddie, 95, and Ethel Smith, 91, from Brookfield said they were off to visit their daughter who lived in Motuoeka and also to spend time with a sick relative.
"At our age taking this direct flight is ideal, otherwise we would have to fly to Auckland, or alternatively to Wellington, and wait around for our connecting flight. It's also a lot cheaper and far more convenient," Mr Smith said.
Also heading to Nelson were Mount Maunganui couple Tenielle and Brendon McHugh, their 12-week-old daughter Lily and 4-year-old son Jackson.
Mr McHugh, who was employed as a project manager at Comvita, said he was "Nelson born and bred" and they were heading back to his hometown to visit family.
Frequent flyers to Nelson, the couple said they snapped up the special flight deal and were taking the chance to also show off the newest member of their family.
"We wanted to go down anyway and the timing couldn't have been better for us. We will probably fly back to Nelson more often now. It's great," Mrs McHugh said.
Mr McHugh said the direct flight made it far easier with a young family and also reduced the travel time and costs considerably.
"Previously it cost us the price of two flights. This flight is perfect for us."
Kiwi Regional Airlines chief executive Ewan Wilson, who was at Tauranga Airport to greet departing and arriving passengers, said it was "an incredibly huge day not just for Kiwi Air but also for Tauranga".
People are telling me they're loving it, which is what we hoped for. For us, very clearly, Tauranga deserved more capacity.
Mr Wilson said he was thrilled to have added Tauranga to the airline's network, as it was part of the golden triangle when it came to economic hubs.
Sales of seats on the twice-weekly flights to Nelson and on to Dunedin had been "excellent".
"Tauranga is performing very well for us against all our other routes, which is fantastic," he said.
Mr Wilson said the feedback from passengers could not have been better.
"People are telling me they're loving it, which is what we hoped for. For us, very clearly, Tauranga deserved more capacity.
"Our experience highlights the need for affordable, direct, inter-regional air services in New Zealand, and today vindicates our decision to add the Bay of Plenty as one of our key regions."
Mr Wilson said Kiwi Air could never compete with Air New Zealand flying the Tauranga to Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch routes.
"But it's fair to say we are looking at how to add another 400 flying hours a year capacity to our existing network, which may include adding capacity to our Tauranga flights."
Mr Wilson said that could mean a second midweek flight from Tauranga to Nelson.
"Ultimately it's a board decision, but I'd like to see an announcement by May 1."
Tauranga Airport is set to receive a $4.5 million upgrade later this year to make space for the increasing number of passsengers flying in and out of the airport.
Kiwi Regional Air Tauranga flights:
* Flights to Nelson depart at 12.05pm every Tuesday and Saturday, flying on to Dunedin on Tuesday after a 25-minute stopover.
* On Saturdays, Kiwi Air operates a Nelson-Tauranga-Nelson return service also around the middle of the day.
* Airfares: Tauranga-Nelson direct start from $99 one-way
* Tauranga-Dunedin tickets start at $169 one way.
Conditions apply to fares
For more information visit flykiwiair.co.nz