7 Jul 2016

Pilots lose Wellington runway battle

4:11 pm on 7 July 2016

The New Zealand Airline Pilots' Association has lost a court battle over a controversial proposed extension to Wellington Airport's runway.

Wellington airport runway.

Wellington Airport Photo: WIAL

The airport company said it was delighted with the court victory, over its proposal to extend the runway 350m southwards into Cook Strait in order to get long-haul flights into the capital.

This would cost about $300 million and its economic viability has been debated repeatedly, with opponents saying it will never make money and supporters saying it will earn back its investment and more.

Either way, it will need financial input from local government.

The company running the airport has applied for resource consent and the matter is open for public submissions until 12 August.

Its latest success in court overcomes another hurdle for the proposed extension.

Debate over runway safety area length

The Airline Pilots' Association had sought a judicial review of the Civil Aviation Authority's decision to approve the plan.

The association said the Director of Civil Aviation had failed to consult it about safety areas at the end of the runway.

These are required under international aviation codes to minimise dangers if a plane overshoots a runway.

Under Section 139 of New Zealand's Civil Aviation Rules, a safety area must be at least 90m long and, if practical, 240m.

The airport's chief executive, Steve Sanderson, said the 90m safety area proposed for the extension was adequate.

"We pass all the civil aviation requirements in terms of a safe airport and the cost-benefit analysis and the safety reports were taken all under consideration by the director, and he found the airport will continue to be a safe airport," Mr Sanderson said.

Much of the debate in court focussed on the issue of practicality, since the runway extension would be into deep water.

In the end, the Director of Civil Aviation found in favour of a 90m safety area, saying additional safety benefits would be outweighed by the cost of construction.

The Airline Pilots' Association argued he failed to consult it properly in reaching this view.

But Justice Clark ruled that, in consulting with the association, he was not required to negotiate with it, saying safety orders were things for him to decide on.

As a result, Justice Clark ruled the director did not breach his duty to consult, and turned down a request for a judicial review.

The pilots' association said it wanted to study the judgement before making comment.