An over-optimistic take-off


by Neil Douglas
An aspect of the recent print advertising for Wellington Airport has been disingenuous.

The airport’s take-off graph of passenger numbers is far too steep, because the ‘runway’ – the horizontal axis – has been foreshortened, giving the same ‘distance’ between 2020 and 2030 as that for 2010 and 2015, when it should in fact be double the distance.

Not only that, but if the observed straight line growth between 1989 and 2010 is extrapolated, as would be the normal procedure in road traffic forecasting, only 7.4 million passengers would be using the airport in 2030 and not the 10 million as the advertising would have us believe.

Top graph: I have prepared this more realistic take-off graph for future Wellington airport patronage.

Dr Neil Douglas is a Wellington-based transport economist.

Take-offs are also an issue for the airport’s optimistic plans to extend its runway into Evans Bay. Caution about the plans came in a Wellingtonian interview in July when a former pilot and airline inspector warned about regulations affecting takeoff gradients.

There are other dissenting voices. After a recent enthusiastic article in the DomPost by the Chamber of Commerce’s cheer-leading Raewyn Bleakley, three letters offered a different spin.

“The first rule of business is to ensure there’s a market for what’s intended to be bult or made,” wrote John Westwood. “How many airlines have said they’d use an extended runway for long-distance flights? I haven’t read of any.”

“Grossly inflated claims of economic benefit in the BERL report don’t stack up,” wrote Steve Mahoney. “It seems some naive councillors … have fallen for a slick powerpoint presentation and are about to buy a pup from some big business boys.”

“A case has not been established to convince anyone that the extension is essential,” wrote Stan Andis. “No … airline is queuing up for landing rights, so why should the Wellington extension be regarded as a special case? Let Infratil go it alone.”

And in a DomPost oped article on Friday, Richard Randerson of the Guardians of Evans Bay said the runway extension project had “questionable benefits.” He questioned BERL’s “somewhat inflated” forecast that a longer runway would result in twice as many overseas students coming to Wellington. And he said it was telling that Infratil (who own two thirds of the airport) was willing only to contribute one third of the cost of extending the runway.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown won unanimity from her councillors when they voted to spend $1m helping the airport pay for a resource consent application for the longer runway. The mayor continues to align herself with a majority of the city’s business leaders who are in favour of the $300m extension. But she’s starting to express caution about how it might be paid for. In the DomPost this morning she says: “The airport should pay a significant portion.” More than only a third of the cost, one would hope.

And not everyone in the business community is supporting a longer runway. The ranks of the doubters now include Bob Jones. His criticism of the runway extension plan is reported in an interview in the latest issue of FishHead magazine.


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