By Pattrick Smellie
Aug. 15 (BusinessDesk) – Wellington’s airport runway extension initiative fails on the grounds that lower North Island and South Island travellers are already flying to long-haul destinations through Auckland or Christchurch and the region is not a magnet for tourists, who are more likely to favour Auckland and Queenstown as an arrival point.
That’s the conclusion of a study commissioned by the lobby group for international airlines, including Air New Zealand, lodged in opposition to Wellington International Airport’s application for a resource consent to lengthen the capital city’s runway by 350 metres.
The new study, by Australian-based Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consultants for the Board of Airline Representatives in New Zealand, said the likelihood of airlines establishing new long-haul services to the capital is “extremely remote, implausible at best”.
It contests the findings of a study by rival aviation industry consultants, InterVistas, which APAC said has over-estimated demand for long-haul services to and from Wellington, which it said has not benefitted from the boom in international tourism that has boosted arrivals, particularly to Auckland and Queenstown, in recent years.
“Visitor demand growth from long-haul markets to Wellington has lagged not only the New Zealand average but also other airports in New Zealand without long haul international services,” said the APAC report.
Using Australian Bureau of Statistics and International Air Travel Association (IATA) data, APAC concluded that Wellington’s strongest growth has been in short-haul traffic between the capital and Australian cities and the Pacific Islands, where most of the growth in new routes to Welllington has been in recent years.
“Presently, Wellington has no markets with sufficient origin-destination demand beyond New Zealand, Australia or the Pacific Islands that could support non-stop services with adequate frequency.”
The report makes almost no mention of improved export freight-forwarding opportunities that might arise from a longer runway – the main benefit cited by Wellington Chamber of Commerce head John Milford, who called for support from local businesses ahead of last Friday’s deadline for submissions to the Wellington Regional Council on WIAL’s application for a resource consent to undertake the $350 million project.
WIAL is seeking to make Wellington an alternative long-haul destination to Auckland, the country’s dominant airline gateway, the existing second gateway Christchurch, and Queenstown, which is increasingly connected by direct flights from Australia.
WIAL is owned 66 percent by Infratil, the NZX-listed infrastructure company, and 33 percent by Wellington City Council. It is seeking the majority of the runway extension cost from central government and Wellington ratepayers, arguing the benefits would accrue more to the country and the region rather than the airport owner, which cannot justify the expansion on purely commercial grounds.
APAC disclosed in its submission that it has undertaken work for key opponents of the Wellington plan, Air New Zealand, Auckland International Airport, and Queenstown airport, in which AIA has a shareholding, but says its analysis is independent.
“The simple fact is that Wellington International Airport’s catchment region is too small and too slow-growing to warrant non-stop long-haul services,” said APAC, which makes serious accusations about the quality of the InterVistas analysis undertaken for WIAL.
“InterVistas .. have either failed to accurately reflect the nature of demand at Wellington International Airport when benchmarked against neutral and industry-accepted data sources, including data sources InterVistas purports to rely on, or appear to have reinterpreted the data to support a case for long-haul demand,” the APAC report said.
In a submission on the runway extension application, the New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association said there was increased risk of a serious accident or incident, especially from larger planes using Wellington Airport, unless an adequate Runway End Safety Area (RESA) of 240 metres or a recognised equivalent solution is used.
NZALPA president Tim Robinson said despite his members having the most to gain from the runway extension, they were opposed to it unless it included the RESA. He suggested an alternative though known as Engineered Material Arresting System in use globally, which is a crushable material installed on an existing RESA to declerate an aircraft in an emergency.
Earlier this month, the association filed an appeal against the High Court’s decision to turn down a review of the runaway’s 90-metre safety area.