Prior to 1931, the area where Hawke's Bay Airport now stands was part of a tidal lagoon and a popular venue for sailing and fishing. The earthquake that struck on 3rd February 1931, with a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale, raised the seabed by up to two metres and gave Napier many additional hectares of dry, flat land.
The first regular service between Napier and Gisborne commenced in 1935 from the Embankment airfield and transferred to the Beacons airfield, the current airport site, soon after.
Although Beacons aerodrome had been used by commercial airlines since the 1930s, in 1959 it was suggested that an airport for Hawke's Bay should be established at a location central to both Napier and Hastings. In 1961 a Committee of Inquiry, having heard submissions from interested bodies, decided that the airport should remain where it was and recommended that it should be developed to a sufficient standard to carry jet-prop aircraft.
Construction of a new sealed runway of 1310m x 45m was commenced in January 1963 with provision to extend to 1706m and with a grass cross-runway of 1219m x 30m. Despite adverse weather conditions, including 406 mm of rain over one four-day period, the contract was finished on time and within the budget of $800,000. The first Fokker Friendship aircraft landed on the new runway in December of the same year.
With the continuing growth in passenger numbers, in 1984 it was decided to extend and improve the terminal facilities providing passengers and visitors to the airport with a pleasant waiting area, an improved cafeteria and what was to be the original Boardroom.
In 1985, the decision to seal 600 metres of the cross runway was finally approved, as considerable damage had been done to the grass strip by larger aircraft landing and braking, during periods of strong westerly winds, which prevented them from using the main runway.
In October 1990, the Air New Zealand Boeing 737 service was inaugurated with daily flights to and from main centres and Friendship services were withdrawn. In 1991, Air Nelson provided additional Saab services and Boeing services were gradually scaled down.
In October 1993, Air New Zealand withdrew the Boeing service which were replaced by additional Air Nelson Saab 340s and Mount Cook ATR 72s. In August 2005, the first Bombardier Q300 commenced service in a phased replacement programme of the entire Saab fleet. In September 2007, with the replacement programme completed, the final Saab 340 left Napier.
1991 saw a major reseal of the main runway. In 1997 the main apron was extended to the south and the northern taxiway sealed. A new control tower was constructed for Airways Corporation in 2002, which enabled a major redevelopment and extension of the terminal, which was completed in 2003. In 2010/11 the runway was extended to 1750 metres with 240 metre Runway End Safety Areas at each end to enable domestic jet services from the airport. Additional car parking and airside facilities have also been provided to give the Hawke's Bay region an excellent strategic asset for the future.
Air New Zealand provides regular direct flights to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.