Nelson Airport's 75th birthday this weekend is as much a homage to its founders as a tribute to the success of a local company, says chief executive Kaye McNabb.
The airport, which is co-owned by the Nelson city and Tasman district councils, is the country's fourth-busiest.
It was the brainchild of the former Nelson Harbour Board, whose members foresaw the future of air travel and planned the establishment of a commercial airport, Mrs McNabb said.
She said an efficient transport service was vital to the growth and health of any economy.
"When a region is isolated by mountain ranges that make road transport slower and more expensive, without an efficient and frequent air service, the effect is really continued isolation."
Right from the start, the management and governance of Nelson Airport had its sights firmly set on frequency of service, she said.
"While trans-Tasman connections have been courted by many of New Zealand's regional airports, and many millions of dollars have been committed to that prospect, it has been the focus of the succession of Nelson Airport operators to seek frequent connection to the main centres and beyond, to support regional growth."
Mrs McNabb said this strategy had benefited the region significantly by encouraging business investment, and encouraging national and international businesses to be located in Nelson.
The airport's central location had enabled it to attract and develop major aviation businesses, including Air Nelson, Air New Zealand Technical and HNZ Global.
It also plays an important role in supporting the region's health services, including the Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter, which is based at the airport.
Flight for Life and Flying Doctor services also use it for patient transfers, and Nelsonians travel to other centres on ordinary domestic services every day for specialist consultations and treatments.
"It would be impossible to provide the specialist health services that a small country like New Zealand needs if they weren't able to be centralised and available by an efficient air transport service," Mrs McNabb said.
The current passenger terminal is the airport's third.
Mrs McNabb said the first terminal was a small shed behind the current rescue helicopter hangar.
The second, now demolished, was well remembered by locals, who "regularly refer to the pot belly stove for heating, and the buckets to catch the rain pouring through the many holes in the roofing iron".
A major revamp of terminal access and parking is scheduled for 2014.
An expansion of the terminal was expected within the next two to three years to cope with recent and continuing growth, and to provide for additional passenger facilities, Mrs McNabb said.
She said the airport's growth since it started was a "significant achievement this region can be proud of".
Nelson Airport is celebrating its first 75 years with a community open day on Saturday, exactly 75 years since the first commercial flight.
The community open day is from 10am to 4pm on Saturday at the Air Nelson hangar, and will feature a range of aviation events and entertainment. Entry is free.
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