Scoop: Lengthening the runway: $3m, so far, from the council to the airport company

Wellington City Councillors (but not all of them) have voted to give another $2million to the airport company, to help it continue making plans for a longer runway.

They gave the first $1million to the controversial cause in May last year.

And last night they decided to make a second payment, double the first amount. We are told this is necessary because the cost of applying for resource consent has doubled – to $5.9million, whereas last year the council said that the cost would be only $2million.

The council’s announcement says it won’t be asked to make a third contribution to the process. But the DomPost reports this morning that a similar assurance was given when the first payment was made.

And though everyone is rushing towards making a resource consent application (via the Environmental Protection Agency) no one has a clue about how the longer runway would be paid for. The cost has been quoted as being $300million. But if the cost of a resource consent has doubled in 18 months, then who can guess what the final cost of extending the runway would turn out to be.

Meantime, international services from Wellington Airport are expanding, without the need for a longer runway. There’s to be a new route from Wellington to Los Angeles, via Nadi, when Fiji Airways starts twice-weekly flights in June.

JetStar has announced that it’s starting a new service between Wellington and Melbourne in March. And flights to the Gold Coast, three times a week, began last week.

These aren’t the long-haul flights that the airport company is dreaming of. But local travellers are getting new choices, including the choice of avoiding changing planes in Auckland. If anyone feels strongly enough about this. And without the need to spend $300million. Or whatever the final price might be.

The highly-orchestrated campaign promoting the runway extension continues at full strength. Jo Coughlan says the longer runway will somehow “unlock the region’s economic potential.” (A similar claim, one remembers, was made about the Basin Reserve flyover.) Fran Wilde, however, is more cautious, and is holding out for a business plan. John Milford (whose resignation after 8 years at Kirkcaldies was announced today) has no qualms, and says there’ll be “clear benefits,” though no business case has yet been sighted. And a VUW academic, who should have known better, wrote to the DomPost the other day saying that Wellington would be a “backwater” unless it had a longer runway. International students, he believes, will only come to Wellington on direct flights. He worries that they won’t leave home if they have to change planes, either in Auckland or Fiji or Sydney or Melbourne.

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