The Chatham Islands are on course to enter the jet age with the green light given for the construction phase of extending and strengthening the airport there.
Last year the Government approved $40 million for the Tuuta Airport project, which has now moved from the early contractor and design phase to the building stage.
Construction is due to start in late August with completion of the runway
expected in July 2022 and allowing Code 4C jet aircraft (Boeing 737/Airbus A-320 planes) to operate on the Chatham Islands.
The runway will be lengthened from 1360m to 1860m with safety areas of 60m and 240m at each end.
Strengthening and expansion of aprons will allow up to 30 jet movements a month in addition to turboprop operations.
Air Chathams has scoped using a 737 within its fleet and chief executive and co-founder Craig Emeny said the new runway would allow it to operate such an aircraft in the coming years. The airline experienced strong passenger and freight loads over summer and is still looking at jet aircraft.
Jets would cut the journey time from Auckland in half from the current 2.5 hours in an ATR turboprop making for a better passenger experience and opening up more capacity for live or chilled seafood.
Allan MacGibbon, chairman of Chatham Islands Airport, said enabling Code 4C aircraft will futureproof the airport for the next 50 years.
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It could improve operating economics, which may encourage new air service operators and open up options for export and other business activity on the Chatham Islands.
The islands have already seen a surge in tourists since borders closed and more Kiwis visited new places in New Zealand.
''The airport extension has been identified as critical and is the flagship Chatham Island's
infrastructure project which stands to facilitate the expansion of the island's economy and
increase the community's social wellbeing.''
Downer New Zealand will do the building and BECA will manage the contract
for the airport company.
MacGibbon said the airport is one of a number of projects identified through the Chatham Islands Investment Strategy which is an islands and all of government strategy to support sustainable growth on the Chatham Islands which have a resident population of about 660.
It is expected that representatives of Downer and BECA will be visiting the islands, 800km east of New Zealand, within the next month to provide further detail of the project programme and to answer questions the community may have.