Report slams Wellington Airport runway extension

By Pattrick Smellie

Wellington is not a magnet for tourists, the study says. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Wellington is not a magnet for tourists, the study says. Photo / Mark Mitchell

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, says 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 says has overestimated demand for long-haul services to and from Wellington, which it says has not benefited 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," says the APAC report.

Using Australian Bureau of Statistics and International Air Travel Association (IATA) data, APAC concludes 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 Wellington 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 nonstop 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 in a call for support from local businesses ahead of last Friday's deadline for submissions to the Wellington Regional Council on the airport company's application for a resource consent to undertake the $350 million project.

It is seeking to make Wellington an alternative long-haul destination to Auckland, the dominant airline gateway, the existing second gateway, Christchurch, and Queenstown, which is increasingly connected by direct flights from Australia.

The airport company is owned 66 per cent by Infratil, the NZX-listed infrastructure company, and 33 per cent by Wellington City Council. It is seeking the majority of the $350m cost of a runway extension from central Government and Wellington ratepayers because it argues 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.

- BusinessDesk

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