The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has to revisit a decision over whether a longer runway safety area is needed if Wellington Airport extends its runway, a court has ruled.
In a decision released on Tuesday the Court of Appeal has agreed with the NZ Airlines Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) that the CAA must consider if longer runway safety areas (RESA) can feasibly be constructed, and also consider the use of arresting systems if appropriate.
The Court of Appeal found that in ruling that Wellington’s existing 90 metre safety area as compliant and appropriate for Wellington Airport’s proposed extension, the director of the CAA “made material errors in law”.
Under international aviation rules, regulators must ensure that airports operate with RESAs of at least 90m, and if “practicable” of at least 240m.
The court ruling is quite interesting. It says the CAA needed to seriously look at a 240 metre RESA and only if it concluded it was impracticable, look at shorter lengths.
When the matter came before the the High Court, Justice Karen Clark ruled that what was “practicable” was a balancing exercise between safety considerations and the cost and difficulty involved.
However the Court of Appeal decision differed from Justice Clark, saying that while cost had some “limited relevance” in considering what was practicable, the real test was what was able to be constructed.
“[C]ost is not a predominant factor to be balanced against the requirement of promoting safety; given its removal from the amended primary legislation, “reasonable cost” is now a factor of subordinate importance,” the Court of Appeal decision said.
This means, if not appealed, the CAA has to redo its consideration of what length RESA is required and if it is more than 90 metres, this would significantly add to the cost of a runway extension.