Airport plans biggest infrastructure programme since railways.

With projects worth around $4 billion scheduled to start in the near future, Auckland Airport is set to embark on the nation's largest infrastructure programme since the railways were built.

One key difference facing Andre Lovatt the airport's general manager of development and delivery is that while it took many years to build the railways, the airport needs to expand fast.

"It's large, it's quick and we need to make sure we are operating the airport while we do it," says Lovatt. "That means we need to keep people safe while ensuring that travellers can get to their destination on time. It's a considerable task to enable efficient construction activity and have the airport continue to function in a customer-centric way."

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The scale of the airport infrastructure programme is daunting.

A total of 200 individual projects are included in the plan. Eight anchor projects top the list. These include a new 3000-bay carpark, expansion of the airfield, new taxi-ways, a substantial road project and new cargo facility. Some of this work will pave the way for the airport's second runway. Towering over all of these projects is the new domestic jet facility. Lovatt says: "It's exciting. It's a key move in terms of what Auckland Airport will become. The facility means the integration of international and domestic journeys. It will allow for future growth as outlined in our master plan."

He says more details about the project will be available in November. For now "we're in design. Over the next 12 months we'll complete the design and will move forward with construction. Our current guidance says it could be operational in 2022, but we'll know more about the timing in November."

The project is essentially an extension of the international terminal. Lovatt says it's the project most people care about because they want to have a better journey between international and domestic.

"We need to deliver this project with certainty and with great quality, everyone is watching," he says.

Lovatt says you can think about the airport on a number of layers, but fundamentally it is a system.

"Every journey starts either with a car journey and finishes with a plane journey or it works the other way around.

"We have to ensure we have a really good understanding of everything that goes on in the airport precinct. We have to understand traffic flows, where all of our utilities are and we have a clear idea about levels of service and design intent that we have to meet into order to achieve our master plan to achieve future resilience and growth."

'We need to deliver this project with certainty and with great quality, everyone is watching,' says Andre Lovatt. Photo / Greg Bowker
'We need to deliver this project with certainty and with great quality, everyone is watching,' says Andre Lovatt. Photo / Greg Bowker

At this point, the airport executives can start to think about designing the individual projects to make all of this work. Lovatt likens the task to playing a game of chess where you always need to think one or two moves ahead.

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It may not always look like it, but Auckland Airport is a brownfield site. There is a lot of history around the physical precinct. There are pipes and cables in the ground, these have to be moved. There are cargo operations and places where planes park, all of this has to be taken into account when planning projects.

This is where the 200 projects come into play. Lovatt says many of them are simply to smooth the path for the eight anchor projects. He says; "In order to construct the domestic jet facility we need to complete the remote stands on the airfield to enable freighter aircraft to be relocated.

"We also need to move our fuel pipeline and the hydrant system on the air side. In many cases these steps are all determined years in advance."

The whole is a massive planning exercise which Lovatt says it is a data- and evidence-based approach. The projects are all part of the airport's multibillion-dollar capital plan. It aims to give certainty, but there's a long-term component to it.

"We plan over chunks of five years." These are aligned to the airport's pricing periods, airlines pay for the aeronautical infrastructure and these are negotiated over five years. "We plan with a high degree of clarity over at least 10 years then there are projects within the plan, such as the second runway, that are so large and have such a long gestation period that we plan them even further ahead.

"The last thing you want to do is something short term that blocks or prevents the realisation of an opportunity in the longer term."

All of this is based on research and evidence about the long-term trends in passenger travel and freight.

Another big project at the airport is the construction of a second hotel. Like the existing hotel, the new Te Arikinui Pullman Hotel development is a partnership with Tainui. Lovatt says it will be a five star hotel which is in line with the Airport's strategy. "It's a twin for the existing four star Novotel hotel," says Lovatt. "It will provide a high standards of accommodation for people at the airport. This reflects the growth of the precinct."

Lovatt links this back to the emergence of the airport precinct as a significant part of South Auckland's economy.

"It's becoming a centre for widespread economic and business activity — 15,000 people come to work here every day. It's not just one employer, Auckland Airport is a significant employer, Air New Zealand is a significant employer, all the people who come to work in the other businesses are a diverse group of people."

One goal is to make it easier for people to get to travel to airport to work and for travel. Lovatt says the strategy is to provide a range of transport options.

"Over time we're enabling high capacity vehicles through the network and the corridor," he says.

Eventually this means rapid transport.

One of the infrastructure planning tasks for the airport involves protecting a corridor for rail, it could be light rail or heavy rail.