"Christopher Luxon really needs to talk to John Key - one of the directors of Air New Zealand - about Whenuapai," Hibiscus and Bays Local Board chairwoman Julia Parfitt says.

Earlier this week, Air New Zealand chief executive Luxon revealed his company is in the final stages of assessing the viability of flying commercially from the Defence Force airbase at Whenuapai - a makeover the airline thinks could be achieved for as little as $200 million.

Parfitt challenges the commercial viability and practicality of a commercial airport on the northwest Auckland site. But she's also keen to highlight that Luxon's stance contradicts that taken historically by Sir John, and the possible complications for Luxon's rumoured ambition to stand for Parliament.

"It was John Key who shut down the second airport debate in 2008," Parfitt says.


Key, an Air New Zealand board member since 2017, waded into the Whenuapai airport debate several times during his political career.

In a guest op-ed for the Herald in 2003, titled, "Airport plans quite foolish," Sir John (then National MP for neighbouring Helensville) said a scheme to convert the airbase into a commercial airport - put forward by then mayors Bob Harvey, John Law and George Wood - would be a "white elephant out west".

"Whenuapai is worth preserving but only as a military airfield, not some second-rate, loss-making commercial folly destined to bleed dry local ratepayers," Sir John wrote.

"First, the Whenuapai runway is built of hexagonal concrete blocks designed specifically to stand up to bombing. This is ideal for military purposes but would provide a bumpy landing for ordinary planes."

Sir John noted what he saw as other problems with the plan, including the changing demographics of the areas, and the airfield's relatively small size relative to Auckland International Airport - which he saw as restricting flights and thus landing fees and income, and he saw problems with further expansion.

In 2004, he reiterated the project was "a lemon".

Campaigning in 2007, Key said he was "totally opposed" to using the Whenuapai base for commercial, joint commercial/military use, or housing and in 2008, once he was in power, a renewed push to convert the airbase was knocked on the head.

Parfitt says tens of thousands of people have moved into the area since.


She says the Government and council have invested billions in the Waterview Tunnel which, in part, makes it a lot faster for people in northwest Auckland to reach the airport at Mangere.

She adds: "Auckland Airport is 22 per cent owned by the people of Auckland. It's a prime investment of the council's and the dividend from that investment heavily subsidises rates bills."

Parfitt says she's disappointed Air New Zealand has yet to make details of its plan public.

Air New Zealand's new plan for Whenuapai could conceivably address and overcome Sir John's historic objections about converting or sharing the airbase.

But in Parfitt's opinion, the airline is merely using the plan as a bargaining chip.

"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 says.

And she also sees a possible personal motivation on Luxon's part.

"This appears to be cynically timed, parting statement from a chief executive who appears to have political aspirations," she says.

"It's not lost on our community that he might be seeking to stand in Upper Harbour," she adds, name-checking the northwest Auckland seat that Paula Bennett will vacate at the next election to become a list-only MP.

'If he is, he really needs to talk to people and get a sense of understanding about what the communities thinking about the Whenuapai plan."

On Friday, Luxon - who will depart on September 25 and who has not ruled out a move into politics - positioned the proposal in straight-down-the-line commercial and development terms.

He said mixed-use military and commercial airports were common around the world including at a popular destination for New Zealanders, 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 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 Whangaparaoa, 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."

Air New Zealand modelling suggested car parking would be cheaper at the second airport, too.

Parfitt said this morning she was surprised Luxon had gone public with Air New Zealand's plan apparently before discussing it with Defence Minister Ron Mark.

On Thursday, Mark took a swipe at the airline for a lack of consultation for early plans which he described 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.