$25m proposal for airport

ANDREA FOX
Last updated 05:00 12/07/2012

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Hamilton Airport is proposing the Government pays $25 million to extend its runway so the city can be the North Island alternative for big jets if a tsunami or other disaster hits Auckland Airport.

Airport company chairman John Birch believes Hamilton Airport would be a "national asset" in the event of a calamity such as a plane crash, a terminal fire or a natural disaster closing Auckland Airport for an extended period.

The only airports currently able to take long-haul aircraft are Christchurch and Auckland.

"If a disaster should befall Auckland there is only Ohakea, which is six or seven hours drive south; Wellington, which is about the same length as us; Whenuapai which is only 10 kilometres from Auckland Airport in a straight line and could be affected by the same event; and Christchurch.

The impact on the national infrastructure of shuffling people north from there is not a realistic proposition," Mr Birch said.

"It is something the country needs to look at and make a decision about."

The airport company, owned by Waikato local councils, has discussed the idea with local MPs, its shareholders, and briefed some government agencies including the Transport Ministry, the agency that would have to do the required risk assessment.

The company is developing an economic case to support a formal proposal to Cabinet ministers, Mr Birch said.

The airport already has resource consent, subject to three appeals, to extend the runway to 2900 metres. This would enable the airport to handle all long-haul aircraft, including the new Boeing 777 and 788, but not the Airbus 380s, he said. It would mean Waikato people could fly directly from Hamilton to Europe, the US and Asia.

They can now fly only to Australia from the city.

But the airport company itself has no business case to extend the runaway at an estimated cost of $25m.

It would take only four-long haul aircraft visits a week to provide the downstream economic benefits that would justify the region spending this amount, Mr Birch said.

Auckland Airport handles 21,000 visitors a day, who are estimated to generate $1500 each for the economy, a total of $31m, he said.

The proposal would be for the Government to pay for the runway extension and the airport company to pay it back either under a usage agreement or a one-off payment in perhaps 20 years.

Mr Birch said the $25m would cover the runway extension, new apron cost and lights, but not terminal facilities.

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