Airport Extension: Looking like a white elephant and yet another consultation failure brewing

In the latest blow to the Wellington Extension idea the Board of Airline Representatives (BRANZ), representing twenty airlines, are sending some mixed messages about whether airlines will fly here if the extension goes ahead. Radio NZ reports BRANZ as stating that there is no intention by any airline to fly into Wellington if the extension goes ahead and that they [BRANZ] want to see a much better cost analysis first. But the Deputy Mayor seems to know better than BRANZ and insists:

“We’re talking to a number of airlines that are members of BARNZ and they are saying to us they’re interested in looking at this in the future. “They’re saying they’re interested in flying to Wellington, they want to continue discussions and we’re looking at commercial arrangements.”

So let’s get this really clear. BRANZ, who represent twenty airlines, are categorically stating that right now, it is there understanding that none of their members are even thinking about this, however, the Deputy Mayor, says the exact opposite.

Red flag that one.

Now, BRANZ is being very transparent and has stated, up front, that one of their underlying concerns is that the costs to airlines landing in Wellington will go up as a result. Based on previous experience, that seems to be very valid.

Wellington International Airport, owned by Infratil and the capital city’s holding company, has extracted $100 million in excessive profits with its most recent price increases for airport services, says its biggest customer, Air New Zealand. – Wellington Airport gouging $100m from service charges: Air NZ (2012)

There are three things that really concern me. The first is that there is no business case that has been made publicly available, the Ernst Young report, in my opinion, suffers from optimism bias. Second, while the WCC is requesting feedback and consulting on the airport extension, they clearly have absolutely no intention of listening to any of us. Finally, isn’t there a huge conflict of interest in the WCC running any of these processes given that they own a third of the airport?

I have to breathe a wee bit now. Because this kind of thing really annoys me.

Let me state this as carefully as I can. In order to provide feedback to the airline extension consultation, the residents must be given the correct information to decide on whether it is a good idea, or not. We’re not getting that. We are getting the results of a minor report that cost us, supposedly, a million dollars that looks like it is very optimistic.

That’s not good enough. Where is the business case? Where is the actual data? We are getting waffling about Adelaide and other airport extensions that have been successful, but for every one of those there are the same number that were an abject failure.

Meanwhile, the evidence over the last few weeks has been that the WCC has absolutely no interest in listening to the residents at all. They’ve made their mind up. Come hell or high water they are going to commit millions of dollars to this process and will not listen to the locals. The evidence of this is clearly documented.

This, in my opinion, is a reason for residents to question whether we should be voting some of our Councillors out next election. This attitude of treating the residents like some kind of idiot, should not stand. The consultation data to date shows that the vast majority of Wellingtonians don’t want this, or want more information about it. They are against it.

My advice would be to watch carefully the position of Councillors over the next two weeks on this issue. Those that are hell-bent on pushing ahead should be written up on your whiteboards at home as people not to vote for at the next election. Those that are questioning, asking for more information, and seeking feedback from their communities should get a tick.

Finally, you have to ask why the WCC is running this consultation process, or any of this airport extension process at all. It seems to me that there is a conflict of interest when a third of the airport owners are notionally running a consultation process with residents, with our money. Would we allow Infratil to run this process? Absolutely not, but we are, by default.

That needs urgently sorting out. I would suggest that the entire shambles be handed over to some independent party, perhaps the GWRC, to manage it moving forward. Someone entirely independent. This bloody-minded rush powered by groupthink optimism bias is going to cost the city dearly otherwise.

A white elephant is a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness. – Source

I ask you again. If this were a private company that you were looking at investing in, on the evidence of information so far would you?

I sure wouldn’t. I’d be more likely to invest in a time share opportunity in Bali sold to me by some hippy Dutchman.

Because one thing is for certain, we will pay more rates to purchase this pretty, white elephant.

The truth will set you free…. But first, it will piss you off.

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