In an interview with Radio New Zealand Lyon said Aitutaki had huge potential in the tourism industry but was let down by limited access.
He said an international airport could help Aitutaki become a successful economic unit in its own right.
But Aitutaki-based school counselor and Cook Islands Voyaging Society member Thomas Tarurongo Wynne said there were basic infrastructural issues such as access to clean drinking water, proper roads, street lights, etc., that needed to be fixed first.
“The care for our people, culture way of life and lagoon are paramount. Cheaper flights would help but at the cost of more tourists?” Wynne said.
“I’m not so sure of that one. It will be great (to have it) when we have the capacity where all can cope with it.”
Lyon said there was a need to develop outer islands to boost the industry which drove the Cook Islands economy.
“The airport is big enough for it (international flights), but it needs some upgrade measures done and of course a lot of that revolves around safety and things like that,” Lyon said.
“The domestic flight’s about a 45-50 minute ride from Rarotonga. But of course if you’re looking at coming here from somewhere else, the airfare up there is pretty expensive. It’s almost the same as the international airfare or at least a significant portion of it.
“So it’s an expensive extra trip, but if it was developed with its own international access, then it would become a destination in its own right.”
Cook Islands Tourism Corporation had earlier revealed that Aitutaki contributes a quarter of the country’s total tourism earnings.
Tourism contributes to about 60 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) annually.