Opinion: Tim Costley, from the newly formed Kāpiti Airport Preservation Society, writes about retaining flight operations at Kapiti Coast Airport.
Much has been made of the need to "find a solution" to save Kapiti Coast Airport. This column will explain some of the key points, but first the most obvious one: we don't need a "new" solution.
We already have an operational and perfectly functional airport. If everyone was to do nothing the airport could still operate, and that is exactly what the newly-formed Kāpiti Airport Preservation Society (KAPS) are asking for.
In July I became aware that the airport owners, NZPropCo (who also trade as Templeton Group and are allegedly largely funded from off-shore), intended to stop all flying at the airport from September this year.
The outcry was deafening, and the public meeting in September had St Paul's Church overflowing with unanimous support to keep our airport operational indefinitely. The iwi agreed, the mayor agreed, the airlines agreed, the Kaptii Coast Chamber of Commerce agreed. If the owners could just do nothing and let it keep running everyone would be happy. But will they?
Here are the fundamental reasons to keep our airport.
First, resilience in crises. Not just for providing support to Wellington after the big one, but for when the Kāpiti Coast is cut-off to the north and south just like Kaikoura was in 2016. We could only survive with an air-bridge, and life support for an area of this size needs large transport planes like Hercules flying in everything from milk to toilet paper.
Secondly, we need it for everyday safety. Life Flight use it for patient transfer, rescue helicopters use it for the same and as a necessary fuel stop. Military and police use it for training and for staging support to operations. Recreational pilots use it as a safe haven for crossing Cook Strait.
Finally, we need the airport for its commercial air connections to Auckland and the South Island. Business travellers, family holidays, tourists coming into the region. Kapiti Coast Airport is easier to get to than Wellington, it has better parking, and will soon be the regional hub serving travellers from Levin to Johnsonville. Unless it gets closed.
One suggested reason for closure: profitability. Airport spokesman Chris Simpson told me it needs to make millions each year. He argues the airport is losing money, provided you ignore significant commercial rent they get from retailers like Mitre 10 Mega and New World.
In fact, they're trying to sell this part of the airport land (reportedly to an Australian outfit); selling the most profitable part of the airport is the perfect way to make it lose money. Many airports have commercial areas around the outside which offset the cost of running the core airport land.
Selling commercial airport land and keeping only the runway is the same as selling your house but keeping the driveway, then complaining that the driveway isn't earning you enough rent.
The better solution would be to keep the commercial land, develop further land around the outsides of the runway and hangars, increasing the profitability of the airport as a whole. The community wins and so do the owners. Profitability isn't a reason to shut the airport.
The other reason that will be given is safety, and there is too much risk for the owners to accept. Airports like ours operate all around New Zealand: Whanganui, Taupo, Timaru. Whanganui has more traffic, Air Chathams fly there, as does a large training school along with military and civilian flights.
The red herring is AFIS, which is the mini-control tower that operates in Kāpiti. It doesn't tell pilots what to do like a normal tower, but it provides them some extra information.
AFIS is only used in Milford Sound and Paraparaumu. Airways have proposed to remove AFIS, and every pilot I talk to supports this.
A safety review has been conducted, and if it concludes AFIS is not required, then we know it is safe to fly without it. If the report says it is required, the CEO of Airways has promised to keep AFIS, thus making it safe. Either way, safety will not be compromised. Safety is not the reason to shut this airport.
What has changed since the owners bought the airport a year ago? Safety hasn't changed, profitability hasn't changed, nor has the unified support in our community. Perhaps the intentions of the owners haven't changed either.
The airport currently has a stay-of-execution until March 2021. This gives us time to work together on a plan that will keep the airport operating, and explore options for developing around the edges to allow the owners to conduct their business, while supporting the community and its needs.
KAPS are committed to genuine engagement to achieve this. We hope the owners are too.
Link to KAPS Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/savekapitiairport