Wellington Scoop

Pilots delighted that airport’s extended runway safety area is to be reviewed

News from NZALPA
The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) today expressed their delight at the Court of Appeal decision for the Director of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to reconsider his review of the 90-metre safety area for an extended Wellington Airport runway.

The Director of the CAA and Wellington International Airport Limited were also ordered to pay NZALPA for the costs of taking this action.

This decision sets aside that made by the High Court on 20 March 2015.

NZALPA, who was represented at the Court of Appeal by Hugh Rennie QC, were clear in their submission to the Court that this appeal was not about lack of union consultation, but that the conclusion by the CAA Director to not review the runway extension safety area (RESA) was ‘legally and technically flawed.’

The organisation, whose membership covers the large majority of New Zealand’s commercial pilots and all of New Zealand’s air traffic controllers, sought appeal on the grounds that Her Honour Clark J, in her original decision, did not make the requested declaratory judgement as to the meaning of the applicable CAA Rule.

“Under international aviation safety requirements and the CAA’s own rules a RESA shall be, if practicable, 240 metres, or alternatively an internationally recognised safety system equivalent known as an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) could be used,” NZALPA President Tim Robinson said today.

An EMAS is a crushable cellular material installed on an existing RESA, to decelerate an aircraft in an emergency. It has already been successful in stopping aircraft and saving lives in incidents at both New York’s John F. Kennedy and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airports amongst others.

Instead the Court heard that:

• the CAA Director incorrectly adopted a cost-benefit test for Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL) to determine whether a 240 metre RESA was “practicable”;

• the Director incorrectly limited his consideration to the proposal as defined by WIAL and did not consider the possibility of installing an arrestor system; and

• the Director incorrectly limited his consideration to the proposal as defined by WIAL and did not consider a reduction of the declared distances of the proposed runway extension to provide for a RESA of 240 metres.

In addition to the Court of Appeal action, NZALPA has offered further evidence for its serious concerns in its submission to the Wellington runway extension consent process under the Resource Management Act.

NZALPA’s submission included an affidavit from an international aviation safety expert who had worked on award-winning airport runway safety systems around the globe, including Hong Kong’s Wind Shear and Turbulence Warning Safety Systems – considered amongst the most sophisticated system available in the world.

The affidavit stated that financial losses if just one [Boeing] B777 or [Airbus] A330 aircraft were to overrun the runway and the 90m RESA with substantial fatalities, [it] would more than outweigh the quoted construction cost, ‘…without taking into account the human cost.’

“As we’ve consistently said, as commercial pilots and air traffic controllers, our members have much to gain from an increase in flights landing and leaving from Wellington Airport, but not at any cost – especially if that cost is to the safety of passengers, local people, and airport staff,” Tim Robinson said.


  1. Michael Gunson, 28. February 2017, 14:08

    While I understand the airport has applied for an extended period to start construction within its consent application (15 years?) the Wellington City Council has earmarked $90million in its long term plan for the project. And yet the original $300 million price tag, had been revised up in the Greater Wgtn Regional Council s87f report to be somewhere between $458 – 502 million.

    Given that an extension would need an to consider a 240 meter RESA, do I hear any advances on $502 million?

    I sure hope they would have a little left over for the artificial swell focus reef…

  2. TrevorH, 28. February 2017, 14:48

    Fantastic decision by the Court of Appeal, and congratulations to the appellants on a very solid case. Public safety has been placed ahead of financial considerations as it always should have been.

  3. Ian Apperley, 28. February 2017, 15:28

    Hey Michael, you’re bang on. $90 million was set aside under the last administration, provided it met several conditions, of which so far none have passed muster as I recall.

    I’ve written about this before, I think that $1m per meter is hopelessly optimistic, similar extensions internationally have been upwards of $4m a meter.

    I also suspect, I don’t know, that there will be a maximum length they can go South with, given the dropoff into the strait and wave action.

  4. Mark Shanks, 28. February 2017, 15:34

    Well done NZALPA for fighting for the ultimate argument against this divisive and controversial runway extension plan – the safety of the public! This is the legally mandated job of the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, the crown entity established to oversee aviation safety. The Director got it wrong, so very wrong. How can we have confidence in this organisation? And to add insult to injury we the taxpayer will have to pay the court costs for their appalling decision making. This whole extension is a debacle where the ratepayer and the taxpayer must pay for WIAL’s (66% owned by Infratil, which made $2B last financial year) commercial expansion, that will substantially increase their assets. Public servants and politicians have become WIAL’s economic hitmen and the public end up funding and risk managing a private project.

  5. Dr Sea Rotmann, 28. February 2017, 18:54

    Great news for the public and NZALPA – safety has to come first! It is sad that it has gone this far but I am glad that NZALPA stuck to their guns and ensured that their primary mandate – the safety of passengers and crew flying in and out of Wellington Airport – was upheld, seeing it was compromised by WIAL and the CAA Director’s wrong decision. WIAL seems to play fast and loose with people’s safety, as their (non)response to the 7.8 earthquake and tsunami warning has clearly showed. We do not need a loss of life to show that this airport is in a highly risky location – the precautionary principle should be the guiding one – and this includes potential danger from natural disasters and climate change. There are many, many reasons why this runway extension is a really bad idea, but putting people’s safety at risk surely ranks near the top of them! Let’s hope this is the end of the White Elephant once and for all…

  6. Mike, 1. March 2017, 9:08

    Ratepayers should not fund the costs of a runway extension.