The trouble with Auckland Airport is not so much flying out from its terminals as reaching them to connect with a flight. For an airport as successful as Auckland has become, the access issue needs to be resolved, and a lot sooner than the 10 year or longer timeframe figuring in current discussions.
As Auckland International Airport reported on Wednesday, the country's biggest airport had another strong year. It has benefited immensely from New Zealand being a sweet spot for global tourism. Seven new airlines began flying to Auckland last year, and the total number of passengers using the airport rose 10 per cent to 19 million. International arrivals clocked in at 10.4 million.
The growth in travel, along with income from its stakes in Queenstown and Queensland airports, parking lots, hotels, commercial real estate near the airport and the retail empire inside the terminal, lifted the airport company's revenue to $629.3 million last year, up 9.7 per cent.
The business is investing heavily in future growth. The company says it has 44 projects underway each worth over $1 million. Its plans include a new runway for operations from 2028.
But the surge in visitors will be arriving in New Zealand a long time before then. Surveys indicate that as many as 120 million people are actively considering visiting the country. If they arrive they could find the experience soured by the frustratingly long time it can take to reach and leave the airport.
The UK travel analysts OAG undertake punctuality surveys of more than 1000 airports.
Last year it ranked Auckland last of the 10 major Australian and New Zealand airports with a punctuality rate of 78.7 per cent. Top-ranked Brisbane rated 86.7 per cent. As Aucklanders know only too well, even with the arrival of the Waterview tunnel, it doesn't pay to leave the airport dash too late.
For over a decade the airport company has returned million of dollars to its shareholders in dividends and capital repayments. But it is surprising that it has not done more to sort out the mess near its terminals, especially when Auckland Council is a cornerstone shareholder with a 22 per cent stake.
The Auckland Transport Alignment Project's recommended strategic approach calls improved airport access a priority. This 30-year outlook said investment is needed in mass transit.
In March, Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency announced they had agreed there will be a "staged, integrated transition from bus to light rail transit from the airport to the city centre."
National's $2.6 billion election transport policy package did not mention light rail, but Opposition leader Jacinda Ardern said Labour would make light rail a priority, reaching the airport within 10 years. That is too long, and overlooks the faster solution of connecting rapid rail to the existing line at Puhinui.
The airport's chief executive Adrian Littlewood says it wants to be "the world's best airport company." It is an ambitious goal. It will only be achieved if it guarantees passengers get to the plane on time.