Coincidental with the opening of the international airport in 1973, Cook Islands Airways Limited was established with a single Britten Norman Islander operating a daily flight schedule between Rarotonga and Aitutaki. The Company was a joint venture between the Air New Zealand and the Cook Islands Government until eventually bought out by rival domestic carrier Air Rarotonga in 1991. During the late 1970s coral airstrips were constructed on a number of outlying islands in the Southern and Northern Group and air services established.
Air Rarotonga became the second domestic airline commencing service in 1978 with a five passenger Cessna 337 and the Company operates today as the sole domestic carrier with a fleet of Saab 340 and Embraer Bandeirante regional turbo-prop aircraft as well as regional charters with a Cessna Citation II jet.
Another local airline Avaiki Air operated for a brief period in 1991. The Company folded after a tragic accident at Rarotonga where a their aircraft crashed into the sea during a night approach resulting in the loss of six lives.
Since the opening of Rarotonga International in 1973 a number of international airlines have at one time or another served the Cook Islands, the longest surviving carrier of which is Air New Zealand.
Others to have served the country with scheduled flights at one time or another include Polynesian Airlines, Air Pacific, Air Nauru, South Pacific Island Airways (SPIA), Hawaiian Airlines, Aloha Airlines, Canada 3000 Airlines, Cook Islands International (operated by Ansett Australia), Royal Tongan Airlines.
Today, Air New Zealand operates schedules from Auckland, Sydney and Los Angeles, Virgin Australia from Auckland and Christchurch, Jetstar from Auckland and Air Tahiti from Papeete.