Wellington Scoop

City must end support for airport’s runway extension plan, say Guardians


News from Guardians of the Bays
Wellington International Airport’s decision to withdraw its Environment Court application for consent to extend its runway should mark the end of a protracted and costly process for ratepayers, according to community organisations and concerned Wellingtonians opposed to the project.

The Airport first lodged its application for resource consent with the Environment Court in April 2016. That application was put on hold in April 2018 to allow time for serious safety concerns raised by the New Zealand Pilots Association (NZALPA) to be resolved. Those concerns have still not been resolved satisfactorily which is why the airport had to withdraw its consent application.

Co-Chair of Guardians of the Bays Richard Randerson, representing more than 600 concerned individuals as well as other community and ratepayer organisations, said that Wellington Airport had run a protracted and flawed process since they first made the extension proposal.

“There has neither been the demand nor the support for the Airport’s proposal. Wellington Airport has drawn down significant amounts of ratepayer funding for an Environment Court application that has tripped over itself at every turn.

“The Airport is saying it is simply going to redo its proposal and resubmit. Given the many millions of dollars that ratepayers have already paid to the Airport, the Wellington City Council should not commit to any further ratepayer funding for this project.

“The Airport Company’s blind determination to proceed made a mockery of the hundreds of people who submitted against the proposal and of the very real safety concerns about the safety margins that any international airport should meet. The submissions from business, community groups and individuals show up many unanswered questions,” Mr Randerson said.

Co-Chair Dr Sea Rotmann called on the Wellington City Council, representing ratepayers’ shareholding in the Airport company, to call time on any political and financial support for the proposal and put the “White Elephant” proposal to bed, once and for all.

“In this local body election year, it would be an opportune time for all candidates, including the Mayor, to stop this farce once and for all and move on with better projects for our city, like social housing, traffic congestion, infrastructure and earthquake and climate change resilience,” she said.

“The Council’s Low Carbon Capital Plan is also utterly incompatible with support for an extended runway, as aviation emissions are already almost 25 percent of our City’s emissions profile.

“The airport has never had a convincing business case and there is no evidence that airlines will actually use the runway to bring long-haul flights into Wellington. The much-touted ‘Capital Express’ route to Canberra has been canned, after publicly available loading data clearly showed the route was achieving less than a 50 percent passenger loading. And that is despite a $9 million ratepayer subsidy to promote the route.

“We call on Mayor Justin Lester to make good on his promise, made shortly after he was elected last year, that his support was dependent on demand for the route. It has been proven that the demand is not there and yet the Mayor continues to support it.

“The airport extension was going to cost up to $500m according to one expert – much more than the $300 million originally suggested when this process started, four years ago.

“Combined with all the other projects that Wellington City Councillors are also signing up to, ratepayers will be straining under increasing rates and a massive increase in the City Council’s total borrowings, projected to grow from $404.1 million to $806.5 million.

“Wellington ratepayers should not be faced with the financial risk of the extension. The Airport company’s 66 per cent shareholder Infratil have publicly said they are only willing to cover about 17 per cent of the cost.

“What has happened to the many millions of ratepayer dollars of financial support towards the technical reports which are now moot and towards fancy marketing to sell this ill-fated project? It’s time to admit that this has been a costly mistake and to focus on more important infrastructure resilience projects for our city.”


  1. thom, 15. April 2019, 13:07

    The situation in Wellington is pretty sad for international travel with prices beyond Australia often 2x of the ones from AKL and CHC due to lack of competition.

  2. Traveller, 15. April 2019, 14:11

    Thorn. Fly from Wellington to Auckland or Christchurch to join an international flight, and your extra cost will be nothing more than the domestic link.

  3. Chris Horne, 15. April 2019, 14:26

    The era of THINK BIG projects died a necessary death years ago. The prospect of runaway climate change emphasises the desperate need to stop a resurrection of THINK BIG projects such as the proposed runway extension.

    Wellington International Aiport Limited (WIAL) was wise to withdraw its application for resource consent to extend the airport runway into the steadily rising seas of Cook Strait, and the often furious southerly storms which lash our coastline.

    WIAL will be applauded as a responsible local and global company if and when it decides to abandon its runway extension plan once and for all.

  4. Mark Shanks, 16. April 2019, 9:09

    So right Chris Horne. Growth and speed have become proxies for progress at perhaps an irredeemable cost to the environment. Let’s slow down and value what we have.

  5. glenn, 16. April 2019, 15:48

    Why shouldn’t the capital of NZ have a fully functioning international airport? This proposal has been hijacked since day one. No one should have to fly to either Auckland or Christchurch to catch an international flight. So while everyone is moaning about climate change/greenhouse gases, these same people are happy for an extra flight to get somewhere, go figure.

  6. Dave B, 16. April 2019, 18:17

    Any comment Glenn on the short-lived attempt by Singapore Airlines to transform Wellington into a global flight-destination? Why didn’t this work? Why didn’t other airlines rush to join the party? Have you considered that the demand might not be there to justify the cost of what is proposed?

  7. Matt, 16. April 2019, 19:18

    How come a club of 600 “concerned individuals” allow themselves to represent 300,000 city residents. Airports like every other major infrastructure projects have proven economic formulas, it’s not up to concerned individuals to decide whether it’s a good thing for everybody or not. I’ll vote for whoever pushes forward with getting this done.

  8. Andrew, 16. April 2019, 20:04

    Matt, are you aware the airport company has its hat out for others to pay for the vast majority of the extension? If the economics are so brilliant, why do they need public money? Wellington Airport is after all a private business.

  9. CC, 16. April 2019, 22:07

    One thing that Steven Joyce should be remembered for was saying that Infratil’s annual profit was sufficient to pay for the runway so the Government wouldn’t contribute.

  10. michael, 16. April 2019, 22:34

    @ Dave B I agree with you. To get one long-haul flight, WCC committed millions of ratepayers’ money to subsidise Singapore Airlines into Wellington. If we go ahead with the runway extension (at great cost to the ratepayers), will we then be expected to spend millions more subsiding a host of other airlines when the demand does not eventuate?

  11. Paul, 17. April 2019, 12:33

    @Glenn, building an airport extension won’t bring international flights to Wellington. Airlines work on hub & spoke models. Auckland and Christchurch are the logical hubs for NZ. We aren’t a big enough country, nor does Wellington have enough dedicated traffic to justify changing hubs or creating a third one. So even if we build it, it won’t attract any services unless we stump up yet more $$ as subsidies. It’s a white elephant, which is why Infratil won’t use their own money to do it.

  12. Tony Jansen, 17. April 2019, 13:43

    I cannot believe that so many people still think if you build it, they will come.
    Never going to happen. I have outlined the reasons (similar to Paul’s above, but in greater detail) as to why this project is dead in the water from day one. The only reason Infratil is pursuing this is so when they sell their asset sometime in the future they will realise all the profit as we will have paid for the bulk of it.
    I can’t see what the big drama is about flying to Auckland first if you want to fly to Europe. People need to get over themselves. There are far more pressing things that need doing in our city. The way Infratril are dragging this out and trying to bankrupt those individuals who are fighting this on our behalf is shameful.

  13. Gillian Tompsett, 17. April 2019, 17:16

    Matt it was the NZ Airline Pilot’s Association (NZALPA) who successfully held it up in court because professional pilots aren’t happy with Infratil trying to cut corners on safety by building a runway that doesn’t meet international best practice standards. You should thank NZAPLA’s lawyers for doing the job that the CAA are supposed to, which is to safeguard public safety, not facilitate the private sector to do as they like. The judge effectively told CAA to go back to the drawing board and do their job.

  14. banana, 18. April 2019, 10:28

    1. Singapore Airlines are still flying to Wellington – and their flights are full – at both ends of the plane (I use it often enough to have first hand proof of this). And three years later – they are still here. Sounds like a success to me!

    2. Other airlines aren’t “rushing to Wellington” because the runway is too short.

    3. Hub and spoke – Sorry to say it but New Zealand is a spoke – always will be. Auckland is not a spoke, and Christchurch is only marginally bigger that Wellington in terms of passenger numbers – so interest from airlines is, and rightfully should be, on point to point.

    4. Anyone who is happy to take an extra flight in a time of hyper climate awareness needs to take a serious look at themselves.

    5. And if the benefits are socialised (for example I’m pretty sure the airport doesn’t get all of what the average foreign tourist spends in NZ (which MBIE currently estimates at $3270 per tourist)) why shouldn’t some of the cost be socialised? We pay for the upgrade of every other type of infrastructure we use, so why shouldn’t we pay for this??

  15. michael, 18. April 2019, 17:57

    Singapore Airlines is still here because they are being subsidised to the tune of $1 million rate paid money/year for 10 years. Why the WCC thought it was OK to do this is beyond me. Plus, just as Singapore Airlines can operate planes here, so can other international airlines, but they choose not to. And, given that WCC has set a precedent with Singapore Airlines, should any others decide to operate out of Wellington, will we also be paying them each $1 million/year for 10 years?

  16. CC, 18. April 2019, 23:18

    1. Would Singapore still use Wellington if it wasn’t paid to? Wasn’t the original deal to fly through Canberra which was also subsidising the airline?
    2. If Wellington’s runway is long enough for Singapore Airlines, why isn’t it long enough for other international airlines?
    3. Wellington flights go to Sydney and Melbourne – are they spokes or hubs in your opinion? If the former, why shouldn’t they, like Auckland, be just a stop along the way to the appropriate hub?
    4. Anyone who is happy to take any flight in a time of hyper climate awareness needs to seriously question whether they need to be flying at all.
    5. The problem with this notion is that you expect those who will seldom, if ever, have cause to use international flights should subsidise those who choose to. If each tourist who stayed in Wellington was dropping something more like $100,000, you might have a valid argument but when most of the $3270.00 will go offshore or elsewhere in NZ, why should Wellingtonians be providing subsidies. This is especially so, when the two-thirds partner could comfortably pay for the extension with a slight dent in the return to investors, which for some reason appears to be sacrosanct.
    Seemingly banana, you are a regular user of the Singapore flights. But travellers making the once in a lifetime trip overseas, if they can afford it, have no issue with a stopover in Auckland, Christchurch or Australia.


Write a comment: