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Whenuapai locals say John Key promised no commercial airport at airbase

A promise by former prime minister Sir John Key not to establish a commercial airport at Whenuapai airbase could come back to haunt outgoing Air New Zealand boss Christopher Luxon if his hints at a political career with the National Party come to fruition.

The idea of the RNZAF base also being used for commercial flights has been floated several times, last in 2008.

And just over weeks before he stands down, the Air New Zealand chief executive has resurrected the idea, saying the airline's customers want cheaper fares, lower airport parking and transport costs, and quicker commute times.  

But the proposal is not flying with Whenuapai locals, who've heard it all before.

"We went through all this years ago with John Key," resident Karen Batchelor told 1 NEWS.

"And he said as long as he's government there's no way that there will be an airport, a commercial airport out here, and kept his word. That's what we fought for all those years ago," Mrs Batchelor said.

She says the 13 military aircraft currently at the RNZAF base make minimal noise and are used rarely. And she fears introducing more aircraft, flying regularly, would lower the value of her home.

But Air New Zealand says its initial ideas for the airport would only mean flights would run during business hours, and to a small number of destinations.

The airline estimates flight times on the Whenuapai routes would reduce by 20 minutes, and says transport to and from the airport would be quicker and cheaper for travellers on the North Shore.

Hibiscus and Bays Local Board Chair Julia Parfitt says she can't understand why Air New Zealand is bringing this up again, especially considering Mr Luxon has little more than two weeks left in the role. 

"He has political aspirations… Seems a wonderful way perhaps of getting a profile up?" Ms Parfitt said. 

Christopher Luxon made an appearance in the preferred prime minister stakes in a 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll at the end of July, with one per cent of respondents giving him the nod for the country's top job.

That came after Mr Luxon hinted he was interested in joining the National Party when he resigns from the airline.

Mr Luxon denies his Whenuapai proposal is a publicity stunt, saying he's doing what's in the best interest of Air New Zealand as long as he's there.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Ron Mark says it's interesting the Government wasn't consulted by Air New Zealand before it made the announcement.

In a statement, Mr Mark said the proposition is "half-baked" and that there are issues with commercial airlines flying alongside sensitive military operations.

Auckland Airport told 1 NEWS it already has a development programme and the proposal to expand Whenuapai would likely result in the costly duplication of assets.

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