Richard Thomson of Air NZ writes at Stuff:
Air New Zealand celebrated a milestone last week when we landed a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner at Wellington Airport.
Having the Dreamliner on the tarmac at Wellington prompted enquiries about whether we were trying to make a subtle point about the proposed Wellington Airport runway extension.
Our position on the runway extension isn’t that subtle, it is very clear. The problem with flying long haul from Wellington isn’t the length of the runway.
The problem is the size of the local travel market, there are simply not enough travellers from the Wellington region or even the lower North Island to sustain regular direct services to any of our long haul destinations; certainly not enough to justify the tremendous investment in infrastructure and the millions of dollars of on-going cost required to support them.
That is why – regardless of the length of the runway – we won’t operate long haul services out of Wellington. The numbers just don’t stack up relative to the costs involved in addressing the perceived problem.
Wellington has better air links to the world than it has ever had. It is close to two large, competitive aviation hubs and from September will have a new way to Singapore through Canberra on our alliance partner Singapore Airlines.
Air New Zealand is committed to supporting that service, but there is a good reason it’s travelling via Canberra – Singapore Airlines knows the passenger flows out of Wellington can’t sustain a direct service.
A longer runway may bring new airlines to Wellington such as South China. It is possible they will do direct flights to Asia from Wellington. But the evidence suggests it is less than likely. Christchurch has around the same population, and a very long runway, and very few direct flights overseas beyond Australia. They do get flights to Singapore and Guangzhou but not North America.
Despite the reticence expressed by ourselves and all other airlines, Wellington Airport is pushing ahead with its runway extension project.
The reason for this is simple. Even if no new services are attracted, and even if it is paid for from the public purse, the airport will be able to recover the cost of the runway extension through landing fees from existing users and airlines.
The airport will make money under any circumstance, while existing airlines and travellers will be forced to pay.
It’s not for us to tell Wellingtonians how their rates should be spent. But, it is important to understand these dynamics to properly understand why the airport company is so keen, and airlines are so cautious, on the runway extension.
I’m in favour of the runway extension, but believe it should be funded by the airport company primarily – not by ratepayers and taxpayers.