BLOG: Wellington City loses out as Airport reports falling international passenger numbers


By Dr. Sea Rotmann

Wellington Airport have released their full-year results, reporting a drop in international passengers by nearly 9,000 people.

The much lauded Singapore Airlines Capital Express route, which Mayor Justin Lester promised would be “a boon for Wellington offering cheaper travel” and “bring more visitors to the capital”, has failed to make much of an impact in its first six months as international numbers drop while the Wellington to Auckland route sees the biggest growth.

While not supporting the rate payer subsidy given to test the Singapore connection, the trial has also confirmed what many suspected, the demand is simply not there. Better to know this now, before the council commits another $90 million on the proposed runway extension.

So what does this mean for the extension? In a meeting with the Guardians of the Bays earlier this year, Mr Lester stated that if the Capital Express route take-up indicated a lack of demand, the runway extension would be taken off the table.

We hope the Mayor will stand by this promise. The City Council should not be supporting this white elephant project that is riddled with flaws and will drain the region of much needed financial resources.
The Environment Court hearing on the proposed extension’s resource consent has stalled as the Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority continue to try and shut-down the New Zealand Airline Pilot’s Association’s critical concerns about the safety of the proposed extension. Last week the Pilot’s Association has written to the Supreme Court raising concerns that the case is being driven by Wellington Airport’s commercial interests.

What we’ve seen in the Airport’s results would appear to support their concerns.

The New Zealand Herald has reported that, despite dropping international passenger numbers, Wellington Airport and its majority shareholder Infratil have increased profits by 29 percent. Aeronautical income rose by 6.7 percent to $70.3m, with profits coming from rent paid by airlines, for things such as counter space, gate space, hangars, storage, maintenance facilities, along with landing and parking fees. The Airport is profiting nicely from the four-times weekly Singapore Airlines flight.

So who has lost out? Wellington City and the Wellington ratepayers, whose hard-earned rates have been spent on subsidising and marketing a route that is under-performing and demonstrating little long-term viability.

At the time of the Capital Express’ announcement commentators said that the new route, which continues to be heavily subsidised by Wellington ratepayers, would stimulate large numbers of travellers.
Six months in and this appears to be untrue. And if the passengers aren’t coming it’s the City that misses out on the economic benefits, not the Airport.

At this stage, we can only call on Mr Lester to acknowledge these statistics and re-allocate the $90m extension budget to worthier and more critical projects, and implore the Supreme Court to recognise that human safety cannot be ignored in favour of corporate welfare and profit margins.