Air New Zealand is doubling down on its push to fly out of Whenuapai, releasing some detail of analysis it's done on domestic flights and saying it could help expand its regional network.
Although there are massive hurdles to start-up services from the Air Force base - including strong pushback from Defence Minister Ron Mark and furious opposition from residents' representatives - the airline said it got ''a lot'' of positive feedback from customers today after floating the idea.
It also has conditional backing from a potential investor in developing a commercial airport at the base and other airlines who want to see more competition with Auckland Airport.
Chief executive Christopher Luxon said mixed-use military and commercial airports are common around the world including a popular destination for Kiwis, Honolulu.
"Our customers tell us they want better transport options and even cheaper airfares and by operating out of Whenuapai we'd be able to lower the cost of travel to many domestic destinations," Luxon said.
"It would also allow us to further grow regional services to support economic development around New Zealand."
Initial studies showed the Air New Zealand could initially operate 10 services a day during business hours to destinations such as Christchurch and Wellington.
The airline is also assessing the viability of flights to Queenstown, Napier, Nelson and Palmerston North. Luxon said road travel times for customers in North and West Auckland would be cut by up to 20 minutes.
"It's ridiculous that someone who lives in, say Whangaparoa, has to drive more than 60km to get to Auckland airport and allow two hours each way to get there at peak times when there is a perfectly good airport much closer. It's examples like this that show why our nation has a productivity issue."
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Starting operations from Whenuapai would undermine Auckland Airport's monopoly on airline traffic in the city and Luxon's push - as he is about to leave the airline - is a sign the relationship between the two companies is heading for a rough patch.
The airport says developing a second airport would lead to the costly duplication of assets at a time when infrastructure development was under pressure.
But in another dig at the airport company, Luxon said: "Our modelling suggests car-parking rates would also be cheaper.''
He leaves the airline on September 25 with a bid to be a National Party MP a possibility, leading one critic to label his stand "cynical" politics.
Luxon said the infrastructure "crisis" had been built up over multiple generations.
"We should be bold when thinking about how to solve this problem. Travel to other advanced economies, for example Denmark, Switzerland, Singapore and Ireland, and you will see infinitely better infrastructure."
Luxon said he had spoken to utility investor Infratil, which around 15 years ago teamed up with local authorities and got close to getting a commercial operation started.
Today, Infratil executive Tim Brown, who is chairman of Wellington Airport, said much of the same analysis that encouraged the company to get involved with a consortium of councils was still relevant now.
The key would be support from Auckland Council.
"Essentially, yes, we would be willing to work with Air New Zealand and Auckland Council to bring civil aviation to Whenuapai.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, whose council has a 22 per cent shareholding in the airport company, is today not talking about the issue.
"Unfortunately the mayor is unavailable for comment today," a spokesman said.
Yesterday, Ron Mark, took a swipe at the airline for a lack of consultation for early plans which he described the plan as "half baked". Although there's a review of the Defence estate, he said Luxon's "musings" needed a reality check. He also highlighted problems of operating a commercial airport next to sensitive Defence activities.
Secondary airports are popular with low-cost carriers and while Jetstar doesn't have a specific view on using Whenuapai, it does support airport competition.
However, local boards are furious that residents weren't consulted about what they call a "cheap shot" by the airline.
"This appears to be cynically timed, parting statement from a chief executive who appears to have political aspirations," said Hibiscus and Bays local board chair Julia Parfitt.
"It looks like a cheap shot by Air New Zealand to put pressure on Auckland Airport at a time of commercial negotiations and when the airport is investing millions in new infrastructure," she said.
Auckland Airport, whose share price fell after Air New Zealand floated the idea yesterday, fired back again today.
''For Auckland Airport, it won't distract us from getting on with providing a great experience for our customers and delivering nationally significant infrastructure for the benefit of New Zealand – a multi-billion-dollar programme of work that is going to transform the airport,'' said a spokesperson.
The airport had developed the investment programme for its aeronautical assets in consultation with the airline industry. Airlines had reconfirmed in writing their support for
Auckland Airport to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new aeronautical infrastructure.
The spokesperson said airport landing charges, on average, make up between 3 per cent to 4 per cent of the ticket price on a domestic flight.