Wellington Airport taking runway safety decision to Supreme Court
Wellington Airport is formally asking for resource consent hearings on its runway extension bid to be put on hold while it challenges a ruling on safety areas in the Supreme Court.
For the first time, the airport has admitted that a challenge over its safety area arrangement could see the project abandoned.
At the end of February the airport's plan to extend the runway by more than 350m into Cook Strait to enable long haul flights hit an unexpected hurdle when the Court of Appeal ordered the Civil Aviation Authority to review its decision on runway safety areas (RESA).
The Director of Civil Aviation effectively indicated to the airport that it could continue to operate with a 90 metre RESA, the absolute minimum allowed under international aviation rules. The Court of Appeal said the director used the wrong process to come to that decision.
When the decision was released Wellington Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said he believed the resource consent hearings could go ahead as planned.
But on Tuesday lawyers for the airport formally asked for the process to be adjourned as it seeks leave to take the challenge to the Supreme Court, or, while the CAA reviews its decision on the airport's safety arrangements.
Wellington Airport has refused interview requests, but confirmed the court challenge.
"It's vital Wellington Airport has certainty and clarity over how the regulatory requirements relating to aviation safety are applied," Wellington Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said in a statement.
Sanderson added that the safety of passenger was the airport's "number one priority".
The airport's statement to the Environment Court insisted it was committed to the project, but argued the hearings should be adjourned because its application may be amended, including the possibility that it applies for a longer runway.
The memorandum also raised the possibility that the project could be "abandoned".
"In these circumstances the court and the parties would be put to unnecessary cost and inconvenience unless an adjournment is granted."
The RESA challenge was brought by the New Zealand Airline Pilot's Association (NZALPA), which accused the airport of a "'win at all costs' mentality".
"NZALPA...[is] disappointed that [Wellington Airport] is now intending to spend even more on what is effectively a Wellington rate payer-funded fight against a decision directing a safety review," president Tim Robinson said.
The union, which has previously admitted that the issue had divided its membership, hinted it may not be a party to any Supreme Court hearing.
"Our board will now consider our legal options keeping in mind that we are a union and do not have the resources, including those owned by the capital's ratepayers, of an international airport at our disposal," Robinson said.