Wellington Scoop

Judicial conference to hear concerns about delaying hearing on airport’s runway extension


BusinessDesk report by Sophie Boot
The Environment Court will hold a judicial conference in April to hear concerns about Wellington International Airport’s adjournment request for its planned runway extension.

The airport has asked the court to adjourn its resource consent application for its 355-metre runway extension a further nine months, giving it time to re-apply to the Director of Civil Aviation for approval, prompting the court to ask for comment from interested parties. The proposal has run into legal trouble after the Supreme Court ruled last year that the planned runway end safety area (RESA) of 90 metres, which had been approved by the director of the Civil Aviation Authority, was too short.

Environment Court Judge Brian Dwyer said he was conscious of the costs to all parties involved, but had a number of concerns about the airport’s request for further adjournment, including the ongoing delay in processing the application, which was first filed in April 2016; the impact of the delay on the accuracy or relevance of the supporting information; the uncertain nature of the RESA proposal which the airport will put to the CAA; the uncertainty about whether the CAA will give approval and how that might impact on the application in front of the court, and how long the CAA’s decision might take.

In a statement to BusinessDesk, a spokesperson for the airport said it is preparing information for the CAA using the Supreme Court’s guidance, which didn’t stipulate a specific length that the RESA should be.

“If, following reapplication to the CAA, a new safety length is adopted that is within the distance of the existing application then the Environment Court could consider that we could proceed with our current application,” he said. “Alternatively, the CAA may assess that a longer RESA is required. In this instance, our current Environment Court application may not be sufficient and further assessments and consultation would be required.”

Judge Dwyer said that the Wellington City Council and Wellington Regional Council jointly supported the request for the adjournment but raised the possible need for further notification of the application, while Strathmore Park Progressive and Beautifying Assn Inc opposed the request and “appears to seek that a fresh application be made once the requirements of the Director General of Civil Aviation (the DG) as to RESA length have been settled.”

Residents group Guardians of the Bays requested the airport’s current application be withdrawn and replaced by a fresh application with updated supporting reports, irrespective of whether the proposal remains unchanged as a result of the CAA’s determination.

“Alternatively it seeks directions as to clarification of the RESA proposal being submitted to the DG for approval and monthly reporting requirements,” Judge Dwyer said. “Air NZ Ltd and the Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand Inc support the position of the Guardians.”

The Guardians of the Bay and the two councils have also raised issues about further public notification, “but it is not clear to the court what power it has to direct this”, Judge Dwyer said.

The judge said the court will hear from the Breaker Bay & Moa Point Progressive Association at the conference, should it wish to appear, though it hasn’t determined the group’s application to join as an interested party. The judge asked the airport to advise whether it will maintain its opposition to the group participating in the proceedings.

Earlier BusinessDesk report by Sophie Boot
Wellington International Airport has asked to put its runway extension resource consent application on hold for nine months, as it plans to re-ask the Civil Aviation Authority for permission for its plan.

The airport, which is two-thirds owned by NZX-listed infrastructure investment company Infratil and 33 percent by the Wellington City Council, is seeking the majority of the estimated $330 million runway extension cost from central government and Wellington ratepayers. The 355-metre runway extension would be an effort to attract long-haul flights from Asia and the US.

In 2016, the CAA said a 90-metre runway end safety area (RESA) for the extended runway would be sufficient, which was disputed by the New Zealand Airline Pilots’ Association all the way to the Supreme Court, which rejected the airport’s planned RESA in December last year. International standards call for the RESA to be at least 90 metres, and, if practicable, at least 240 metres.

According to the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s environment committee, the airport has asked the Environment Court to adjourn its resource consent application for the extension a further nine months, giving it time to “re-apply to the Director of Civil Aviation for approval to operate the extended runway as proposed.”

The court asked for comments on the request from interested parties, it said.

The council said it’s considering whether the public should be re-notified about the proposed runway extension, which drew much public attention and discussion since it was first mooted in 2012.

“Parties with an interest in the proposal have been discussing the implications of this delay, and whether the community should be consulted with again given the time that has passed since the application was originally consulted on,” the agenda says. “Should WIAL’s proposal remain unchanged then our preliminary view is that we wouldn’t consider public renotification to be necessary.”

When the Supreme Court’s ruling was issued last year, the airport’s chief executive Steve Sanderson said it was still committed to extending the runway and would review the judgment. The airport said the court’s judgment and interpretation were “encouraging and provides more guidance on what the CAA should take into account.”

In that judgment, the Supreme Court said the CAA director’s responsibility when assessing plans was to start “with what the rules require rather than with what the airport operator proposes”, and this was “not an inconsequential difference of approach”. The director had not considered an alternative safety mechanism proposed by NZALPA because it wasn’t part of the airport’s plan, which the court said was an “erroneous approach.”

The court also said when considering whether the proposal was practicable, the CAA needed to use a more nuanced approach than it had done. The director had looked at the longer RESA case as a cost/benefit analysis, comparing the costs to the airport against the increased level of safety, but should also have considered the intended benefits to the airport, it said.

“If, for example, an extension to a runway would make available to an airport operator a new and substantial income stream, that additional benefit accruing to the operator may mean that a longer RESA is “practicable”, given that it is accepted that a longer RESA will enhance safety by reducing risk,” the court said. “We should make it clear that we are not suggesting that the director must somehow take into account the benefits to a particular region that may flow from a longer runway (although we note that WIAL did invoke the substantial benefit to the Wellington region when seeking the director’s acceptance of a 90m RESA for the northern extension).”


  1. Jonny Utzone, 19. March 2018, 19:45

    Hey WIA, why not make it a 9 or 90 YEAR delay and save everyone time and money.

  2. Mark Shanks, 20. March 2018, 11:09

    Who is paying for WIAL’s lawyers? 33% is no doubt coming from ratepayers. Hardly seems fair does it when the local citzen groups have to put their own money and unpaid time to defend their rights. WIAL must not receive any more encouragement to persue this runway extension through ratepayer funding and consequently no more time extensions either.

  3. glen, 20. March 2018, 15:00

    Just build it

  4. Dr Sea Rotmann, 20. March 2018, 15:16

    It really is ridiculous when you think that it was WIAL’s arrogance that caused this delay in the first place! If they had taken the pilots’ concerns about safety more seriously they’d have waited for the judicial review which clearly showed they’d tried to subvert due process around safety with the CAA Director. Us community groups have been dragged through years of needless court drama – and there’s a good chance that they’ll not get the answer they wish for by September. What then? When is enough, enough? They’ve not just wasted our time and money but $13m of ratepayer dollars too, and counting. Why are our Mayor and the Council continuing to support this multi-national corporate over their own citizens and communities – and over common sense?

  5. michael, 20. March 2018, 17:42

    In the interests of transparency perhaps the mayor will be willing to publish the WCC’s legal costs to date?
    Don’t forget that on top of legal costs, ratepayers have also paid a few million to subsidise Singapore Airlines flying into Wellington Airport. As that was not commercially viable, why are the council so determined to fork out more money for a runway extension?
    Past time for WCC to listen to the ratepayers and get on with the basics.

  6. banana, 21. March 2018, 9:45

    @ Dr Sea – $13m? How about you substantiate that??

  7. Jon, 21. March 2018, 12:22

    If nimby groups weren’t attempting to derail every infrastructure project, Wellington could become an even better, more liveable city.

  8. Mark Shanks, 22. March 2018, 10:34

    @jon – the sooner you realise that the world is our backyard the sooner we can all work togther to solve global problems. The proposed airport extension and other massively expensive infrastructure projects are indefensible when you factor in the environmental and social costs. You know the old saying ‘Think globally, act locally.’ If we would only heed this, then indeed the world would be even better and more liveable.