Air New Zealand wants millions of dollars in higher subsidies from South Pacific island states to maintain services through their territory to the United States, TVNZ said tonight.

The subsidy requests threatened the weekly link from Auckland to Los Angeles via Tonga and Samoa, and another via Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

TVNZ said it understood the Cook Islands government, which currently subsidised the service to Los Angles by $2 million, had been told this needed to rise to $8 million.

It quoted Samoan deputy Prime Minister Misa Telefoni as saying the situation was extremely serious and claiming the airline was holding Samoa to ransom.

“Air New Zealand is basically saying if we don’t subsidise the route to the tune of 4.8 million tala, they are going to stop it.”

Dropping this service would mean that tuna exported to the United States would have to be shipped via Auckland.

Such a move would cost the country millions of dollars.

A Samoan trade official was quoted as saying the New Zealand government pushed Pacific governments to focus on trade rather than aid but in this case, as the main shareholder in Air NZ, it would have a hand in stemming that trade.

TVNZ said Air NZ had given Samoa until the end of November to decide.

The airline said it had been open and transparent with Pacific governments.

In a statement, Air NZ said the “performance” of the flights had been declining and the airline was seeking the advice of the governments about whether the flights would continue.