Auckland Airport is under pressure to fix its runway properly after it was forced to close for urgent maintenance, affecting thousands of travellers.

Flights in and out of the airport ground to a halt yesterday to allow urgent repair work to be done on the busy runway.

It is the second time in as many weeks that the runway has been closed urgently - disrupting travel plans for thousands after flights that had to be cancelled, diverted or delayed.

For many people that meant much longer trips than expected with some flights being turned around and sent back to their original destination before flying back to Auckland again after the repairs were finished.

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For others it meant being diverted to other cities then having to bus to Auckland. For one woman that turned what should have been a 90-minute trip turned into a seven-hour marathon journey.

Airport staff could still be seen working on the runway at 7pm last night. Photo / Philip Wardale
Airport staff could still be seen working on the runway at 7pm last night. Photo / Philip Wardale

The passenger said she left Blenheim at 1.30pm but the plane ended up in Hamilton as a result of the Auckland closure. From there she had to catch a bus to Auckland. The bus was not expected to arrive until about 8pm - and she then had to pay for a 45-minute taxi ride home.

It made for a "very frustrating and expensive Waitangi Day".

The woman was unfortunate enough to have also flown on January 24 when the last runway closure happened and said the ordeal "highlights our airport infrastructure problem and who pays the price".

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Eddie van Jaarsveld said his flight from Sydney was re-routed to Christchurch after passengers were told debris had been found on the runway, causing damage.

Flight radars showed at least seven planes were diverted from the airport just before 3pm. At the same time the arrivals board showed all incoming flights as delayed.

Auckland Airport declined to explain yesterday's maintenance issue. It tweeted at 3.16pm that the runway had to be closed "for a short time for maintenance to be carried out" and apologised for the inconvenience.

The airport then sent a second tweet at 4pm thanking people for their patience saying the runway had reopened.

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The brief explanation did nothing to appease frustrated travellers and transtasman airline lobby group Airlines for Australia and New Zealand (A4ANZ) which says the airport was not spending enough on basic infrastructure.

A4ANZ has the major Australasian carriers, including Air NZ and Qantas, among its members and has been a critic of Auckland Airport over its charging, service and facilities.

Chairman Graeme Samuel said airports sometimes had to deal with urgent issues but there seemed to be too many patch-ups required in Auckland.

''Where you've got it happening once too often into New Zealand's major airport you've got to ask yourself whether there's a major infrastructure deficit - whether they've just not done the work,'' he said.

''Having flights to your major international airport diverted doesn't seem to me to be an acceptable standard of service.''

In the last incident flights were diverted on January 24 after debris was found on the runway. An airport spokesman said at the time the runway was closed briefly to carry out a small patch repair.

The airport is the country's major gateway to international arrivals and has approximately 500 flights landing or departing each day.

Last year it charged airlines $127 million for landing and parking charges which are passed on in fares, in addition to the average passenger movement charge of $6.06 for domestic flyers and $23.07 for international passengers.

The airport is in the midst of a $2 billion capital works programme - including runway apron works, a new international arrivals area, multi-level carparks and road works. It has just completed a transformation of its international departure area, including a new shopping area.

"They want more than just pretty retail precincts and carparks with high charges," said Samuel, a former head of the Australian competition regulator, the ACCC.

"What they want is facilities that make it a pleasant experience.''

Auckland Airport bosses are under pressure to provide travellers and airlines with a 'pleasant experience'.
Auckland Airport bosses are under pressure to provide travellers and airlines with a 'pleasant experience'.

The airport company, owned 22.4 per cent by the Auckland Council, has had a policy of returning 100 per cent of its underlying profit to shareholders.

"It's an easy trap for a monopolist to put off capital expenditure and return more to shareholders but there's a point in time when it catches up to you."

The airport would not respond to Samuel's remarks and instead gave the Herald a statement stating it was well under way with its multi-billion-dollar infrastructure development programme.

"Every visitor to Auckland Airport can see the investment we are making in new infrastructure, alongside our ongoing programme of investment in the safety and security of our existing operation," a spokesman said.