Lengthening landing strip 'costly failure'

By Roger Moroney

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The decision to spend big money to extend the Hawke's Bay Airport runway in the hope of attracting jets has been a costly failure, Napier Labour spokesman Stuart Nash has said.

He added that the $5.5 million pricetag for the extension, which took the runway from 1310m to 1750m, seemed hard to justify today as there had been no return.

"I don't think one passenger jet has touched down since the runway was completed - I wonder what assumptions the airport company made when justifying such a spend," he said.

"Whatever the assumptions made, they appear to be wide of the mark."

But Hawke's Bay Airport company chairman John Palairet took issue with Mr Nash's comments and said the main objective of the runway extension was to create a platform for potential competition.

"Without the extension there would have been virtually zero prospects of an additional airline coming to Hawke's Bay."

He said one impediment to getting a second airline through the Bay was the downturn in the global economy, although he noted that passenger numbers were now beginning to return close to the peak of 2008.

He said the "assumptions" the airport board made in extending the runway to achieve domestic jet capability remained valid, and that ultimately it was down to an airline company to make the decision.

Mr Nash said his understanding was that the chances of getting a competitor airline into the Bay were "pretty remote" and said if one did, Air New Zealand would simply do what it had done in the past and drop its prices, to ultimately force the competition out.

He said the airport company should have taken a stand-by stance and reviewed the potential for a competitor after two years.

"Here we are more than 18 months later and not a jet has landed and they haven't made a cent out of it."

The airport's 2013-2030 master plan highlights that the extension had made Hawke's Bay capable of hosting two of the jet aircraft used by Air New Zealand and domestic services rival Jetstar.

The Boeing 737-300 requires 1650m while the Airbus A320 requires 1700m.

Mr Palairet said the airport company had been engaged in ongoing talks with Jetstar, and there were indications within the aviation industry that another potential domestic services "player" was looking at the New Zealand market.

Napier MP Chris Tremain and Tukituki MP Craig Foss said they were frustrated by the lack of competition and the resulting high costs of air travel from the region.

Mr Tremain said there was a strong need to create the potential for competition, and that the hurdles to getting the extension carried out in the first place required a lot of work and time to overcome.

"Strong indications from the airline industry were that a lengthened runway would facilitate the opportunity to provide additional and competitive services.

"No airline has pursued this opportunity to date which is disappointing," he said.

"Given the loading out of Napier both in the morning and late evening I would have thought this was an opportunity ripe for the picking."

Both MPs said they would be writing to and meeting competitors of Air New Zealand over the next month to ask them to consider increasing their services to regions such as Hawke's Bay.

"And we have requested an update from the Hawke's Bay Airport Board to discuss Air New Zealand's future strategy for the Bay," Mr Foss said.

"We acknowledge that there are more grabaseat opportunities and more capacity from Hawke's Bay. However we are very concerned that the development of Hawke's Bay may be being held back by current arrangements.

"This has direct implications for business development and growth in our region."

He said the "regional win" of extending the runway was the platform for more competition.

"We are hopeful of successful discussions delivering more choice to Hawke's Bay."

 

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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