Brian Mackie: Let's work to have airport soaring

By Brian Mackie

11 comments
Hawke's Bay Airport.
Hawke's Bay Airport.

Now that we know Hawke's Bay Airport has no chance of attaining international destination status and the business park is stalled, how can we use what's there to dynamically develop it, rather than just relying on natural growth?

We could think about making our regional airport a destination in its own right, not just a point of entry.

I operate a two-seat aircraft from Napier.

Three increases in landing fees within two years (the first couple lifting the cost by 65 per cent) and general uncertainty about Napier's future for light aviation have sometimes tempted me to fly away and forget it, as so many others have.

However, there is new leadership in place at the airport company and those aviators who remain have seen positive changes made in a spirit that, previously, was lacking. The "residents" are cautiously optimistic.

Simon Nixon (HBT July 4) and I agree on one crucial point: The primary business of airports is moving aeroplanes, not building light industrial estates featuring out-of-town hotel and conference facilities.

Simon dreams of international access, while I imagine something more modest: Napier as a destination of choice for private flying tourists - and a revival of light aviation based on the airfield, along with the support services this could stimulate.

Similar things have happened in the Bay of Plenty and Tasman.

Like Nelson, Napier's airport is a wonderful place for a pilot to fly into and Hawke's Bay has some amazing scenery, accessible within just a few minutes' flying.

Like Tasman, we have a great variety of on-ground attractions, particularly for the private pilot with an (allegedly) bulging wallet.

Our regional airport is similarly close to town and blessed with good weather, along with welcoming air traffic controllers.

Like Napier, Nelson has a neighbouring small airfield, Motueka - the new home of flight training in Tasman - and like Hastings aerodrome, Motueka is located in uncontrolled (and therefore cheaper) airspace.

Nelson's airport is lively and flourishing. Ours is not.

The idea of an airport forming part of a region's tourism portfolio may appear unusual, but it's something the airport company and our tourism promoters seem to have overlooked.

The company should commit itself to study this idea and, if it has potential, modestly invest - and back it by revising charges to attract light aircraft, in particular the only growth area in New Zealand aviation: The affordable, two-seat, ultralight sport (or microlight) aeroplane.

This class of aircraft is also the new global platform for flight training.

To land a microlight at Napier costs more than twice as much as Nelson, Taupo or Whakatane and the overnight parking fee is absurd.

The terminal building is outdated and tired.

It was designed for transit, not visitors, and the management has already begun to plan its redevelopment.

Hospitality will doubtless be a key factor, because there is currently little to be earned from "foot traffic" between airline flights.

In France, a town's best restaurant is often found outside it - at the airport.

Le Touquet and Deauville, both comparable in size to Napier, boast airport eateries so attractive and fine food so inexpensive that they are popular lunchtime venues for Channel-hopping UK aviators, as well as locals.

In March this year, more than 100 home-built aeroplanes flew into Bridge Pa for their annual convention.

It was a great success, and the home-builders will be back in the Bay next year.

Such events (and there are many) provide an opportunity for Hawke's Bay Airport to:

Compete with its near-neighbour at Hastings;

Offer tourism providers an additional, if initially modest, source of revenue; and

Promote the airport as an all-season, must-visit landing place.

Plans for an aviation museum featuring a local family's collection of Art Deco-era aircraft (suggested in the mid-1990s) were effectively scuppered by the then management.

They might still be revisited.

An airport company-led promotion of light aviation could even resurrect the moribund aero club, now housed in modern new premises built and paid for by the company - and today standing virtually unused.

Unless we rejuvenate the core of our regional airport's original purpose - access to flight for everyone - much of it will remain wide open and under-exploited.

So forget pies in the skies.

Smart thinking, with feet kept firmly on the ground, can achieve lift-off for this airport.

Brian Mackie is a Napier-based writer and businessman and, since 1985, a private pilot who has flown extensively in Europe and New Zealand. He is co-principal of the General Aviation Advocacy group of New Zealand (www.caa.gen.nz)

- Hawkes Bay Today

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