Can Wellington Airport be moved?

February 10th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

A proposal to relocate to a site on the hills north of Newlands is worth investigating, Greater Wellington Regional Council chairwoman Fran Wilde says.

The relocation, which has been labelled an “exciting” idea by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee, has been proposed by Wellington property investor Richard Burrell, who said a completely new airport with a longer runway would have major economic advantages for the region.

It would take a lot of pressure off Wellington City’s roading network and do away with the need for expensive roadworks, including a second Mt Victoria tunnel and more than $300 million that is needed to extend the current airport’s runway.

Mr Burrell said surveyors and engineers had assessed a proposal to put an airport with a 2.4 kilometre runway – able to handle long-haul flights – on farmland at Hunters Hill, between Newlands and Grenada North.

The costings for a new 120ha airport came to about $750 million, far less than the estimated $1.1 billion needed to improve road links to Wellington Airport and to extend the runway.

When I saw the headline, I thought moving the airport is nuts. But if a new airport would cost less than extending the current runway, worth looking at.

If the current Wellington Airport was closed, the land could be sold off for housing and the net effect would be that Wellington would get a better airport with an all-up capital saving of around $500m, Mr Burrell said.

Would be good to be able to get into Wellington from the airport without going through the Mt Vic tunnel.

Mr Brownlee gave his qualified support. “It’s very exciting that someone has had an idea for a new airport, especially as when the private sector comes up with plans of this nature they tend to be fully funded.

However, “the Government has no intention of helping fund a new airport on the hills above Newlands”.

Hopefully that also means the Government won’t help fund extending the runway either.

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43 Responses to “Can Wellington Airport be moved?”

  1. georgebolwing (978 comments) says:

    Last time I looked, Wellington Airport was private property. Whether it is profitable in location A or location B is a matter for its owners to decide.

    If ownership of the roads leading to and from the airport were also in private hands, with costs extracted from users via appropriate tolls, then we could also be better assured that the size and timing of the investment needed would also be optimal.

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  2. peterwn (3,304 comments) says:

    “Hopefully that also means the Government won’t help fund extending the runway either.”

    It could be argued that there should be some Government funding as the longer runway would save on ministers’ bureaucrats’ travel costs and time.

    But hey! Gerry may discover that a similar style of cost benefit could show that there is an economic case to move the seat of Government to Auckland. Whaleoil would probably be cock-a-hoop. Ouch!

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  3. tvb (4,501 comments) says:

    And any plan that is being proposed by a politician especially a leftie politician WON’T be fully funded. It will require taking money out of people’s pockets.

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  4. Ross12 (1,454 comments) says:

    While I can see the some major benefits , not just the cost benefits, I can see the NIMBY issue knocking it for six.

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  5. CJPhoto (227 comments) says:

    So how much farmland does Mr Burrell own in Newlands? A plot 2.5km long by an chance.

    This really is a think big type project, a complete replacement of an airport so even if it didn’t involve government funds, would need a lot of help from them.

    The welling council still owns 33% of the airport so they are in a good driving seat but with IFT owning the other 66%, it will ultimately come down to them. If they could get enough land, I would have though they would be positive about it as it is the add on land development which has really helped AIA profits in recent years.

    I am not from Wellington – what would be the comparative travel times into the CBD. Could a spur to the railway line be put in making quick rail transfers possible (we could save a fortune in govt limos!).

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  6. Elaycee (4,404 comments) says:

    Someone (with a vested interest) is flying a kite.

    Like it or not, Wellington Airport is an existing infrastructure. And like it or not again, it will never be a long haul airport (which means it’s a pipe dream to think a longer runway will somehow equate to increased passenger numbers / increased revenue). [Surely the lessons of Invercargill, Palmerston North, Queenstown, Hamilton, Rotorua etc should be front of mind]. The cost of creating a duplicate runway / taxiways / terminal / buildings / fuel bunkering / nav aids etc, is massive – IIRC, the cost of building a new runway back in the 1990’s, was over $400 million. For the runway alone! And that was 1990 dollars.

    This latest brain fart is as daft as the previously floated idea Wellington Airport should be moved to Pencarrow (or to Paraparaumu). As such, it shouldn’t generate any further oxygen, but be consigned to the bin.

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  7. davidp (3,587 comments) says:

    $750million to build a new international airport from scratch sounds way WAY too low. Then there is also a need to build new roads to the new airport. Sydney has capacity constraints and is looking at building a second airport, but no one can decide where it will go. One of the options at Badgery’s Creek south of the city has estimated costs of $AU1.7bn for a single runway domestic airport and $AU300million for transport links. So that’s about three times the number being thrown around here, and you can bet the Sydney location involves a lot less earth moving than any site around Wellington.

    On the other hand, the airport is only one of a number of reasons to improve the roads and tunnels from the Eastern Suburbs to the city and the north. I doubt if one car in fifty is heading to the airport itself.

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  8. berend (1,715 comments) says:

    DPF: Hopefully that also means the Government won’t help fund extending the runway either.

    They won’t, until Labour promises to do it, and then JK is suddenly in favour too.

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  9. Roflcopter (465 comments) says:

    Cost savings aside, this would take 25+ years to happen… at least.

    In fact I doubt they’d ever get planning and resource consents at all.

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  10. Auberon (873 comments) says:

    As a local resident of the neighbouring suburb of Newlands said to me this morning, that land would spend so much time in the clouds/fog that flight disruptions would be much more of an issue than they already are at Wellington Airport.

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  11. Roflcopter (465 comments) says:

    Another thought… why were Wellington so timid in lengthening the runaway by such a short amount?

    If they wanted “think big” kind of proposals, they should be looking to extend it by many hundreds of metres off the south coast.

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  12. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    Can’t have anything, Lecher Len wants money to play Cullens and have his train set in Auckland! Maybe he could hide his harlots in underground closets, his excessive red hooter being obscured. He is getting support from print, radio, and I guess Tv, in his quest to take heat off his filthy behaviour, coming out with his train aspirations again.

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  13. Nigel Kearney (1,047 comments) says:

    Yes you can fund it by converting the existing airport land to housing, but only if you attach a zero value to the alternative of putting the new housing on Hunters hill and leaving the existing airport alone.

    Also, rates will no doubt be raised to cover the cost and not lowered again once it’s finished and the money from sale of the existing land starts to come in.

    On the plus side, the NIMBY issues may be minimal as Newlands residents already have planes flying over their heads all the time.

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  14. kowtow (8,755 comments) says:

    It would make more sense to move the seat of government.

    Wellington exists as a taxpayer funded entity.

    And yes the airport could be moved, by a big enough earthquake.

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  15. MikeG (425 comments) says:

    Does the $750mill cover the cost of building connector roads etc to the motorway, or does the developer want the Council (i.e. ratepayers) to pick up the tab for that?

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  16. flipper (4,198 comments) says:

    It will never happen.
    When Rongotai opened, it was “too small” for trans Tasman jets – hence Lockheed Electras were bought by Air NZ.
    Now jets to medium haul destinations are possible, if not always the norm. The Tasman is a non issue.

    In the event of catastrophe, the Todd Family’s Paraparaumu airport is the emergency airport.
    Newlands would be worse than the original twin airport vision or Wellington.

    The B737 developed as a shirt haul airliner, is now a medium, haul jet, albeit somewhat cramped.

    In 15-20 years time long haul jets will be capable of using Rongotai….. But will there be sufficient traffic to warrant their use????

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  17. Dave_1924 (119 comments) says:

    Dream land stuff….. $750 million for a new Airport in the hills between the Hutt and Johnsonville? Can’t see it happening. As a previous commentator stated re a new airport in Sydney $750 seems pretty light. the solution is to extend the runway at Rongotai in both direction and add enough length to allow long haul flights. Those who live in the Miramar/Rongotai area just need to suck it up. the airport has been there for a very long time so its noisy as an argument for not extending is just BS…
    As for getting to/from the Airport at peak times – I am surprised there is not a sea shuttle into Evans Bay wharf and a transfer on to a shuttle bus. A ferry from the harbour front to Evans bay would be quick and not subject to traffic jams…. might get bumpy in a southerly though…

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  18. RRM (10,009 comments) says:

    :shock: Something must be wrong with somebody’s figures. Look at the size of the earthworks for the proposed Hunters Hill runway! That is FRIGGING MASSIVE!

    I hate to be an armchair pooh-pooer, but I simply don’t believe doing all those earthworks AND THEN building an airport from scratch on top of it could somehow be cheaper than extending the runway on the existing Rongotai airport.

    I do like the idea, as that location would be more central to a lot more of the Wellington/Hutt/Rua conglomeration than the existing airport way at the remote east end of Wellington city! But it’s not going to happen…

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  19. jptucker (18 comments) says:

    As Auberon says at 9:34 am, fog would be an issue and at the end of the article the comments suggest it just isn’t feasible…high cloud/fog, wind and Mt Kaukau are all problematic. Add to that questionable budgets…seems unlikely.

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  20. Nostalgia-NZ (5,278 comments) says:

    I hope they don’t try ‘moving it’ when planes are coming into land.

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  21. jp_1983 (225 comments) says:

    Im sure a taniwhai will come up as well to clip the ticket on the way through

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  22. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    “Hopefully that also means the Government won’t help fund extending the runway either.”

    It could be argued that there should be some Government funding as the longer runway would save on ministers’ bureaucrats’ travel costs and time.

    More on the basis that the economic benefits extend beyond the catchment area for the Wellington Regional Council (or Super City, if that comes about.)

    I think there are grounds for some central govt involvement, but only on the back of a very robust business case.

    Whether or not central govt are involved in funding, a local airport with greater international reach is key to economic growth for Wellington.

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  23. wikiriwhis business (4,116 comments) says:

    ” “It’s very exciting that someone has had an idea for a new airport, ” (Jerry Brownlee)

    Why is the govt excited about someone’s idea all of a sudden. Never happened before, why now?

    “Someone (with a vested interest) is flying a kite. ” ahhh. Now I understand.

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  24. srylands (414 comments) says:

    There are so many problems with this idea.

    The world is littered with disasters associated with proposals for new airports. The disasters multiply when politicians get involved and actually build new airports. Spain currently has a full size international airport which has never had a single commercial flight.

    New Zealand needs plenty of infrastructure – like roads – so the idea of knocking down a perfectly good airport to build a new one seems nuts.

    The longer runway idea is extremely annoying – it will never be economic – not even close. The airport managers know that. The airlines certainly know that. But they are thinking hell if Celia pays for it then why not.

    My back of the envelope calculations are that if Wellington Airport could generate 6 long haul flights per week, that will generate about $4.5 million annually in new landing charges (based on international charging benchmarks at airports). That is not anywhere enough to generate a return on $300 million. So they probably need 30+ NEW long haul flights per week to make the runway economic. NOT happening. NOT now. NOT EVER.

    Yet, the last time this was aired in the Dominion Post, the “comments” section on the Stuff site were running 10 to 1 in favour of building a longer runway. Go figure.

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  25. wreck1080 (3,958 comments) says:

    The geography around Wellington is unsuitable for a city.

    I worked in wellington for several years after completing uni — awesome place for nightlife and partying — but, once that phase passes I wouldn’t really want to live there.

    As for the airport — the difficulties just highlight the absurdity of wellington.

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  26. Colville (2,298 comments) says:

    A realestate agent and a farmer have dreamed this up over a few Xmas beers.
    Nothing wrong with that!

    Maybe 200 Ha of land that could be used for houses (3 – 5,000 dwellings) and it would move the airport half hour closer to the rest of the lower North Island.

    Its worth a look at.

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  27. MT_Tinman (3,256 comments) says:

    Why pay anything to move Wellington airport?

    If we wait a little longer the fault will move it for nothing ;-)

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  28. Alan (1,087 comments) says:

    With 500,000 people Wellington is a regional airport. The idea that airlines will ever want to fly A380s there is farcical. Long haul isn’t ever going to happen.

    With 4.2m people NZ barely justifies one long haul airport, it’s Auckland and that’s never going to change.

    All Wellington needs is good links to Auckand and Christchurch, and a couple of 737s a day to Australia to connect to other long haul flights.

    There isn’t a problem that needs fixing apart from local government in Wellington understanding that they are a tier 2 regional city.

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  29. rouppe (980 comments) says:

    Not sure Newlands is the right place from an aircraft perspective. It is quite common for Newlands to be cloud-bound while at the same time both Wellington city and Kapiti are in bright sunshine

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  30. convicted radical (65 comments) says:

    Has anyone in the aviation community been consulted over this pipe dream? There is plenty of good comment in previous posts as to why it is not a good idea.

    Forget thr B737, the A320 is becoming de rigueur for shorthaul international sectors around here (Aust and S Pacific).

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  31. emmess (1,432 comments) says:

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to put in the Wairarapa?
    The train goes there and road links could be improved by putting a tunnel through the Rimutakas which could be partly funded by the sell off of the airport land.

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  32. CJPhoto (227 comments) says:

    Has anyone thought of moving Wellingtons international airport to Auckland? As luck would have it, there is already one there so there would be no additional cost.

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  33. Mary Rose (393 comments) says:

    >I hope they don’t try ‘moving it’ when planes are coming into land.

    It just feels like that’s happening when your plane comes in in one of our stiffer breezes.

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  34. brucehoult (200 comments) says:

    I can’t see much need to change the current setup. Certainly not if (as we’ve previously been told) adding 300m to the existing airport will add more to ticket prices than the cost of a flight to Auckland or Christchurch.

    Going one way, Wellington-Melbourne-Abu Dhabi-Europe is cheap, only two stops, and within 500 km of the great circle distance. There’s very little room for improvement.

    Going to the USA, the loadings from Auckland are such that it’s often cheapest to fly the wrong way to Sydney. If you’re worried about the time factor, the hop from Wellington to Auckland doesn’t actually cost you a lot, as the domestic flight gives you something useful to do in the two hour international check in period. If you could fly direct from Wellington to the USA you’d likely have to arrive at Wellington airport at about the same time you do now.

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  35. davidp (3,587 comments) says:

    emmess>Wouldn’t it make more sense to put in the Wairarapa?

    Why? You’d replace a 10 minute drive in to the CBD with a 1.5 hour train ride. At the moment the city has a nice CBD-handy airport that is great for day business trips to Auckland and Christchurch. An airport in the Wairarapa spoils that.

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  36. 2boyz (263 comments) says:

    Living up that way, not sure if it’s the great idea it’s made out to be (real pea souper up there the last few days). Days/hours out of action because of that might not be that helpful.

    The airport car parking would need better security than the highest maximum security prison (anywhere), otherwise half the cars would be missing within a matter of hours.

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  37. RRM (10,009 comments) says:

    I can’t help noticing that new road up the side of the hill at Korokoro to get to it…

    :lol: LOL

    Just build the Mt Vic tunnel 2, it will be cheaper…

    And go home, guy, you’re drunk.

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  38. Viking2 (11,562 comments) says:

    Some thought to extending the runway would also solve the traffic issues. Make it long enough into Evans Bay that a bridge can be built from the side to the shore at about Kio Bay nearest town side point and build a decent marina between the runway and the shore.

    Extend all the rocky foreshore out and 6 lanes airport to Town. simple stuff really and better than going through the hill, up the hill. Plenty of hills for fill.

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  39. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    Foggy all weekend in Newlands I hear. And v windy. Great that people are getting interesting ideas out there, but there is something seriously wrong if the economics of any new investment do not favour continuing with the large sunk investment in Miramar.

    Can’t see any merit in extending the runway. If the airport can’t make it work then hard to see how calling on the taxpayer makes sense.

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  40. NoCash (258 comments) says:

    Does the 750M include undergrounding all the power transmission lines and removing the pylons? That alone won’t be cheap.

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  41. labrator (1,850 comments) says:

    Not that I’m agreeing with the idea but Transmission Gully would basically connect right to the end of the location they’re suggesting. This would be great, in theory, as a transport hub as it’d basically halve all of the traffic going through Mt Vic. However as Wellington has taken over 85 years to add a second Mt Vic tunnel and 50 years to deliberate Transmission Gully I don’t expect to see this new airport happen in the next 40 years. I think the cloud days versus the Rongotai fog days would about even out.

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  42. wikiriwhis business (4,116 comments) says:

    Runs against all common sense so consider it a priority

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  43. Frustrated (8 comments) says:

    If a new airport was to be built, right next to the Transmission Gully route, NE of Pauatahnui looks good. Flatish? Sea level-ish?

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