Air NZ chief's Whenuapai airport idea a 'cynically timed parting cheap shot', critics say

The outgoing Air New Zealand boss' proposal to fly domestic routes from the Whenuapai air force base has fallen flat with leaders of local boards covering the area affected. They say it's causing unnecessary worry for their community.

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Air New Zealand’s outgoing CEO, Christopher Luxon, is behind the latest suggestion. Source: 1 NEWS

Outgoing Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxton said yesterday the airline is “very interested” in the commercial viability of Whenuapai as a second regional airport hub for Auckland. 

He said customers are telling Air New Zealand loud and clear that the transport infrastructure to get to and from Auckland Airport is "sub-optimal", especially for the large percentage who live north of the Harbour Bridge or in West Auckland.

Mr Luxon said Whenuapai could be used much more if the Government was up for considering it as a dual-use facility for military and commercial operations. He also said estimates show airport operating costs at Whenuapai would be lower than at Auckland Airport.

But Hibiscus and Bays Local Board Chair Julia Parfitt says the proposal "appears to be cynically timed, parting statement from a chief executive who appears to have political aspirations". 

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Arline officials said today they believe use of Whenuapai Air Base could help keep costs down for passengers. Source: 1 NEWS

“It looks like a cheap shot by Air New Zealand to put pressure on Auckland Airport at a time of commercial negotiations and when the airport is investing millions in new infrastructure,” she said. 

Ms Parfitt and Upper Harbour Local Board Chair Margaret Miles were both councillors on the former North Shore City Council and opposed the commercial development of Whenuapai when a similar proposal was mooted more than a decade ago.

“This has come out of the blue for residents, with no prior consultation or sharing of the business case Air New Zealand say they have prepared – a company which appears to have flip flopped over the years on its position to develop a commercial airport at Whenuapai," Ms Miles said. 

"Only a decade ago, Air New Zealand did not support it."

Ms Miles said since the matter was first considered, there are now thousands of new homes in the Whenuapai area, and some have been built right up to the boundary fence of the air base. 

"This development would have huge implications for those people," she said.

Ms Miles said all of the North Shore, especially the residents of Upper Harbour and East Coast Bays, are immediately under the flight path to Whenuapai air base.

Ms Parfitt said developing Whenuapai with its need for additional transport and airport infrastructure doesn’t stack up financially. 

And she pointed out it's now much quicker to travel to Auckland Airport from the North Shore using the Skybus or the Waterview Tunnel than a decade ago.

Our customers tell us they want better transport options and even cheaper airfares - Christopher Luxton, Air New Zealand chief executive

Meanwhile, Mr Luxon has doubled down on his enthusiasm for his proposal, saying this afternoon Air New Zealand has had "a lot of positive feedback from customers" on the potential of operating commercial flights from Whenuapai.

"Our customers tell us they want better transport options and even cheaper airfares every day and by operating out of Whenuapai we’d be able to lower the cost of travel to many domestic destinations," the CEO said.

He said customers are "hugely attracted" to not just the prospect of cheaper fares but also lower parking and transport costs, and quicker commute times.  

"It would also allow us to further grow regional services to support economic development around New Zealand," he added.

"I’ve personally been in dialogue with New Zealand infrastructure company Infratil, which runs Wellington airport, and we are committed to working together to fully explore what it will take to put a viable proposition to Government."

Mr Luxon said Air New Zealand's analysis suggests it could initially operate 10 services a day during business hours from Whenuapai to destinations such as Christchurch and Wellington.