RE-BLOG Strathmore Park: Swampy Marsh enters the Airport Extension debate and suffers an ironic injury


Simon Marsh launched into David Lee this morning in an Op Ed in the Dominion Post about the airport extension. He accused his colleague of shooting himself in the foot. In a scene that reminded me of Yosemite Sam hunting Porky Pig, Swampy waved his guns around and managed to shoot himself in the foot. A few times.

His comment:

This [airport extension] must not be steamrollered through without the public being given the opportunity to have a transparent, balanced and factual conversation with full access to both sides of the argument” was the first injury.

He demanded a factual conversation; he then urged that no more money be spent on providing factual evidence.

“Perplexing, without carrying out studies, assessments and impact reports (21 at my last count) to provide the factual evidence needed to judge and debate the case opposing parties will be left making rude gestures to each other.”


This makes my brain hurt. The opposing parties are already making gestures to each other and Simon says there are no less than twenty-one reports in play. Of which approximately one has been made public [Ed: At least two are public: the EY report and the InterVISTAS report, plus the Council’s own peer review of them by Airbiz/PwC]. Where are the other twenty? Do they even exist or is this just a made up number? Why have they not been made public? And isn’t David’s request reasonable? That being, we should debate this will all the facts and by the way, we’ve spent millions on it so far.

And then their are Simon’s “facts”, which are very worrying, because of all the Council thinks this then we have a problem, Houston.

Lee quotes airline representatives who claim to be concerned that Wellington could waste money expanding its airport and then find no airline wants to use it. Really?

So what they are saying is incumbent airlines do not want the airport expanded because that will let in more competition. Look at it this way. If I ran a very profitable dairy on Rongotai Rd and was creaming it, would I welcome other dairies to come and share in the profit? You must be joking.

Well, yes, really, and, it’s twenty-two airlines that have come out and said that the extension is a dumb idea, as well as Air New Zealand who has said that even if it is built, they won’t use it, because their strategy is to have a long-haul operation out of Auckland and Wellington to fly trans-Tasman only.

“The airline industry is criticising plans to extend Wellington Airport’s runway, saying there are better ways to spend $300 million.”

So no Simon, they don’t want to use it, and given they represent twenty-two airlines, the argument around competition will not stand. It doesn’t stand in Christchurch, it doesn’t stand in Auckland, and it doesn’t stand here.

As to the assertion that these airlines believe no-one will want to use it, council was presented with a case by the world’s leading experts in airline route demand, which unequivocally showed that several routes linking Wellington to northern hemisphere destinations would be viable.”

Well, no, you’re wrong again. The ‘world leading experts’ assume a number of things and don’t answer a bunch of others. Like, the fact that the Pilot’s Association has taken the Airport to court over safety margins and if they win, then we may be buying this extension to satisfy that alone. And, we also know from international pilots, that 300m will not be enough to allow wide-bodied aircraft to take off fully loaded, which we assume would be needed given long-haul could be plus 12,000 km.

Let’s make something else clear, that information that was sent to Council, came from InterVISTAS, who strangely, consult on all manner of airport growth and construction. That sounds to me like a conflict of interest. OIA anyone? InterVISTAS is a well known lobby group. 

Back to Air New Zealand as well. Having now defeated Swampy’s “competition argument”, rather soundly, let’s look at what they said a few months back.

Here is the Chief Executive Officer of Air New Zealand discussing regional strategy, which apparently, some Councillors know more about than he does:

The data that the Wellington City Council has tells us that there are twelve Wellingtonians that want to go to Singapore. There is probably about fourteen people going to Hong Kong. So even if we flew a 777 from Wellington to Singapore we might get a three-fold increase in passengers (36), which would be unprecedented in airline experience.

Reporter: “How will the tourists come if an airline does not want to fly and it’s not sustainable for them?”


Reporter: “So even if you are looking at the incoming, rather than the outgoing, it doesn’t add up, and even if it is via a stopover in Singapore, you are saying that it doesn’t add up to bring these planes into Wellington?”

CEO: “Correct.”


CEO: “If it is going to cost $350 million to build a runway, that airlines may not use, wouldn’t it be better to build the proposition of Wellington in other ways?”

Air New Zealand explains that in order to setup a long-haul route Air New Zealand (or any airline for that matter) they must make an investment of between $300m and $400m because it requires two wide-bodied aircraft. Each route costs a further $160m a year to run and relies on filling a three hundred seat aircraft to about 80%, or two-hundred thousand people over a year. The Air NZ CEO points out that up to nine airlines have pulled out of New Zealand because of this investment, and they already had access to a longer airport, Auckland.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

However, when you are a City Councillor that is going to have to vote on probably $200m or more of our money being spent, (the airport won’t put in a third of the money and Central Government has said they won’t fund it) and see a community destroyed (more than one), for what appears to be a white elephant so far, citing reports the public hasn’t seen, and getting basic facts incorrect, man, you have to worry.

As an aside, I had a main stream reporter call me this morning and ask did I know if the Airport PR team had written Simon’s Op Ed? I have no idea.

Let’s hope the other Councillors have done their research.