Push to extend Wellington airport

DAVE BURGESS
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2011
Wellington Airport's blueprint for a longer runway by 2030, with  a 100-metre extension to the north and 500 metres to the south.

LONG TERM PLAN: Wellington Airport's blueprint for a longer runway by 2030, with a 100-metre extension to the north and 500 metres to the south.

Wellington airport
The Dominion Post
Regular and direct flights could also lead to national and international businesses choosing to base themselves in Wellington because easy access to the world would be on our doorstep.
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Wellington City Council is pushing for Wellington Airport to move ahead with plans to extend the runway by about 100 metres to open up the capital for long-haul flights.

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The council says such flights, particularly to Southeast Asia, would provide business and tourism opportunities worth millions of dollars a year to the city.

Regular and direct flights could also lead to national and international businesses choosing to base themselves in Wellington because easy access to the world would be on our doorstep.

"Those direct flights won't be relevant unless there are connections between businesses and between cities," said mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who leaves for Asia today with a 26-strong business delegation to six cities in China and Japan.

She would like to see the airport – 34 per cent owned by the council – push ahead with long-term plans to extend the runway to the north over Cobham Drive.

The idea had been discussed – "relatively informally" – between the airport and councillors, she said. "It sounds palatable to me."

Others on the delegation leaving today have described direct flights to Asia as crucial to Wellington's future. "It's vital. One step to Asia, two steps to London," property developer Ian Cassels told The Dominion Post. "When the opportunity comes, we need to do it with great speed."

The airport's 2030 master plan outlines a 100-metre extension to the north, and a 500-metre extension to the south.

Some long-haul aircraft – such as the Boeing 777-200LR – already have the capability to safely use Wellington's relatively short runway, but such planes are quite rare, which limits the number of airlines that can use the airport.

Other long-range aircraft, notably the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus 350, are being introduced and would also be able to use the runway as it now exists.

Wellington Airport chief commercial officer Matt Clarke confirmed talks had been held but there were no current plans to extend the runway.

"What an extension like that could do is expand the variety or variance of aircraft that could operate direct long-haul services to Wellington, and potentially add some payload to the existing aircraft we have already.

"So periodically we review the cost benefits of that ... and we look at when we might do that, but there are no specific fixed plans."

Deputy mayor Ian McKinnon, who represents the council on the airport board, said: "Obviously longer-haul international flights would be extraordinarily beneficial to the city. There is no question about that.

"But airlines are pretty hard-nosed commercial organisations. If they come in here with long-haul flights from Southeast Asia, they'll want to know those flights are going to be reasonably full."

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Ms Wade-Brown said tempting Asian airlines to Wellington would be a gradual process. She recently met representatives of China Southern Airlines, based in Guangzhou, and has added the city to her current itinerary.

"It may be that the first stage is to make use of the connection to Auckland and then [have passengers] coming down from there.

"But direct flights between Wellington and other countries would make a big difference to the connectiveness of our capital city."

- The Dominion Post

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