As reported by national media in late March, Wellington International Airport Limited’s (WIAL) resource consent application to build a 355m extension to its runway was put on indefinite hold while it attempts to appeal a challenge of its safety areas to the Supreme Court.
It is also understood that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is seeking leave to appeal the recent Court of Appeal’s judgment which, finding in favour of NZALPA, ordered the CAA to review its decision to allow Wellington to operate the same safety area arrangements as it currently does should its extension project go ahead.
The Court of Appeal indicated the CAA placed too much weight on cost when concluding a longer safety area was not "practicable".
WIAL’s Chief Executive Steve Sanderson claimed to Fairfax/Dominion Post that a challenge to its safety areas could ultimately “force [it] to build a 300 metre extension just to keep existing services, or spell the end of jet flights from the capital.”
It was also reported that, according to Sanderson, airports around the country could face the same issue, and indicated that the cost of the project would need to be borne by airlines.
WIAL operates with a 90m runway safety area (RESA), the absolute minimum allowed under international aviation laws and well below the 240m recommended minimum.
“When airports' operating licences are up for renewal, those with RESAs of less than 240 metres may be forced to extend or re-designate their runways up to that length," Sanderson said.
"The result is that some airports could lose the ability to serve jet traffic, operate with significant payload restrictions, or lose all services thus jeopardising their viability."
As reported in Fairfax/Dominion Post, Sanderson would not say which other airports he believed could be affected. At least one other international airport, Queenstown, operates with a 90m RESA, the same as Wellington.
After double checking with lawyers and the NZALPA Board, President Tim Robinson disputed Sanderson’s comments and their legal opinion, and said that 90m RESAs were "grandfathered" unless airports extended runways by more than 15m.
“This does seem like WIAL appears to be ‘scaring the horses’, with the intention perhaps of gaining more support from other New Zealand airports considering extension,” Robinson said.
“This is certainly not the interpretation we accept, and we will continue legal action if leave is granted for the appeal to go to the Supreme Court. It now seems NZALPA is the only premium organisation fighting not just for the safety of our members and aircrew, but also for the wider travelling public.”
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