Union: airport wants Supreme Court to serve its commercial interests

Wellington Airport claims that if a Court of Appeal decision is not overturned, it may have to undertake a substantial ...
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX

Wellington Airport claims that if a Court of Appeal decision is not overturned, it may have to undertake a substantial runway extension just to maintain its existing air services.

The pilots union says the aviation watchdog should be kicked off a Supreme Court appeal, arguing the process is being driven by Wellington Airport's commercial interests.

Wellington Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority have applied to the Supreme Court in a bid to appeal a Court of Appeal ruling which ordered director of civil aviation Graeme Harris to rethink the way he assesses runway safety areas (RESA).

In documents filed with the Supreme Court, the airport and the CAA have separately claimed the Court of Appeal decision could lead to some airports, including Wellington and Queenstown, losing jet and turbo prop services if they do not construct lengthy runway extensions.

But the New Zealand Airline Pilot's Association (NZALPA) - which initiated the court proceedings, has written to the Supreme Court urging it to decline to request for an appeal.

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"[T]here is no issue arising from the decision of the Court of Appeal for which a further appeal is necessary," Hugh Rennie QC wrote in the NZALPA's submission, filed with the Supreme Court on Friday.

"The intended appeal asks the Supreme Court to rewrite the relevant Civil Aviation Rules to suit the commercial interests of some airport operators."

Rennie noted that The NZ Airports Association, which is chaired by Wellington Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson, has already written to Transport Minister Simon Bridges urging him to change the law to prevent air services being affected by the decision.

NZALPA said if the Supreme Court were to grant the application for an appeal, the CAA should not be allowed to be involved as a party, as director Graeme Harris would be in the position of being both decision maker and appellant.

"[H]is duty is to abide by and apply the Court of Appeal's decision on the general law, not to seek to advance, again, his interpretation of the law".

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The CAA has declined to comment.

Wellington Airport spokesman Greg Thomas said the company's position was "clear and consistent".

"The CAA and Wellington Airport are seeking clarity and certainty from the Supreme Court over the interpretation of the rules around the required length of the RESA."

NZALPA president Tim Robinson said in an interview in March that the organisation - based on legal advice - did not believe Court of Appeal decision would have an impact on the existing operations of other New Zealand airports.

Rennie's submission, however, concedes that other airport operations could be affected.

"The Court of Appeal's interpretation may be relevant to the operations of other airport companies."

Nevertheless Rennie said this did not mean the Supreme Court should hear the appeal, with no general public importance ir miscarriage of justice involved.

"Any commercial interest here is [Wellington Airport's] singular wish to gain an exception to the regulatory regime."

The Court of Appeal decision found the CAA placed too much weight on the cost when deciding whether it was "practicable" to construct a RESA of the recommended minimum of 240m.

Some airports in New Zealand, including Wellington and Queenstown - both crucial hubs with significant international operations - have RESAs of 90m, the minimum allowed under international aviation rules. 

Following the decision's release at the end of February, Wellington Airport was granted an indefinite suspension of its application to the Environment Court for resource consent to extend its runway into Cook Strait in a bid to attract direct, long haul services.

 

 - Stuff

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