Air Nelson began operations in 1976 as a small flying school operated by Robert Ingils and Nicki Smith.
In 1984 they began their first scheduled services between Motueka and Wellington and over the following years grew further as they added further destinations to their network. In 1988, the name "Air Nelson" was adopted. The New Zealand airline industry was undergoing changes at the time with deregulation creating a surplus of operators. At this time a joint agreement between Air Nelson and Hamilton operator Eagle Air signed an interline agreement to feed each others networks. In October of 1988, Air New Zealand bought 50% of Air Nelson (and Eagle Air) in an effort to secure a regional feed into their domestic fleet and ultimately led to further expansion of the fleet. In 1995 Air New Zealand took full ownership of Air Nelson It became clear that it was necessary to draw all three domestic link operators together under one label and thus the Air New Zealand link livery was introduced to Air Nelson, Mount Cook Airlines and Eagle Air aircraft.
As at 2011, Ait Nelson was operating 23 Bombardier Dash 8-Q300