By Sophie Boot
March 19 (BusinessDesk) – 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 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).”