Airways is considering withdrawing air traffic services at seven regional airports where there are limited or no commercial flights operating due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The air traffic control services under review are those provided from Airways' towers at Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Invercargill airports. The airfield flight information service (AFIS) provided at Kapiti Coast Airport and Milford Sound Piopiotahi Aerodrome are also being considered.
The state-owned enterprise - which could shed up to 180 jobs - says it has started discussion with the airports, airlines and staff.
It says any changes would mean aircraft will still be able to fly safely to these locations. This includes freight, medical flights and future passenger services.
Pilots flying into these airfields would use standard visual flight rules to stay separated before they reach an altitude covered by air traffic control radar operated from larger centres.
Air traffic volumes have collapsed as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. Airways announced earlier this week that it will reduce its cost base by 30 per cent with 180 of its staff expected to leave through redundancy.
Forecasts indicate the national network will only see up to a 60 per cent recovery over the next two years, with border restrictions expected to stay in place for some time.
The locations currently under review are those where air traffic had been low even before the outbreak, Airways chief executive Graeme Sumner says.
"It is simply not viable to continue the same level of service at locations where there are no passenger flights," he said.
"It's an unfortunate and stark reality, but our focus now needs to be on supporting the long-term recovery of New Zealand's aviation industry by ensuring our services are affordable and match the reality of the aviation sector now and into the future.
"We now need to consider operating different services at these airports or that they operate as uncontrolled airspace in the same way as other uncontrolled aerodromes in New Zealand that have no Airways service – including Kerikeri, Taupo, Whangarei and Timaru airports," says Mr Sumner.
Airways expects to commence a two-week consultation process with unions next week.
At present Airways operates 17 air traffic control towers nationally and offers an aerodrome flight information service (AFIS) at Kapiti Coast Airport and Milford Sound Piopiotahi Aerodrome.
AFIS is used at aerodromes where there are very low traffic levels. It is different to air traffic control in that AFIS officers do not issue instructions to pilots. Instead they provide pilots with information they use to safely operate in and around an aerodrome.