Urgent call to sort out plane 'debacle'

By Mike Dinsdale


A Whangarei tourism leader and district councillor wants issues stopping fully laden planes landing at Whangarei Airport in wet weather resolved urgently to prevent irreparable damage being done to the district's reputation.

Tourism Development Group chairman and Whangarei District Council member Jeroen Jongejans said having to take people off Eagle Air flights if it was raining was not a good look, and could potentially impact on tourism and investment opportunities for the district.

A new Civil Aviation Authority flight restriction for Whangarei Airport that came into effect on June 1 sees passengers kicked off flights in wet weather so planes can land on the runway.

The CAA instruction says Eagle Air's Beech 1900 aircraft have to approach the airport runway at a height of 50 feet (15.2 metres), up from the 35ft (10.7m) restriction that had been used at the airport for many years. Beech aircraft now have to land further down the runway, so when it is wet or there is no headwind the planes need a lighter landing weight to ensure they can stop in time.

The CAA says the action has been taken as an interim measure while an updated risk assessment is undertaken at Whangarei Airport.

But Mr Jongejans said the matter had huge potential impacts for Whangarei and Air New Zealand, which runs Eagle Air, and the CAA needed to sort it out as a matter of urgency.

"It's a no brainer. We've been able to land those planes there for the past 10 or 15 years without any problems in the wet, yet suddenly it becomes an issue," he said.

"When people pay to sit on a seat in a plane they expect to go by plane and that they will arrive on time, not that they will be taken off to go by bus. If you are one of the people who have to get off, you'd be pretty upset."

Mr Jongejans said the "debacle" could put off investors or tourists, many of whom had tight schedules and would not be happy about their trip north being delayed by hours while they went by road instead.

"They won't take a second look. However, one positive is that it lets those investors know the sorts of issues we face doing business here in terms of infrastructure," Mr Jongejans said.

"But it's just not a good look and doesn't do us any favours when we are trying to get more tourists and investors to come to Whangarei. The sooner it's sorted out the better."

Several passengers kicked off flights into Whangarei in rain have complained that there were no warnings when they booked their tickets that they may have to go buy bus.

- Northern Advocate

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