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Pilots outline safety fears and provide a solution as submissions on runway extension closes
There will be an increased risk of a serious accident or incident, especially due to larger planes using Wellington Airport unless an adequate Runway End Safety Area (RESA) of 240 metres or a recognised equivalent solution is used in the proposed runway extension, the New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association (NZALPA) said today.
Evidence for these concerns were outlined in NZALPA’s submission to the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) and Wellington City Council (WCC) on Wellington International Airport Limited’s (WIAL’s) application for resource consents for its proposed extension to the runway at Wellington Airport.
Submissions to the Wellington runway extension consent applications under the Resource Management Act closed today.
NZALPA President Tim Robinson said that, although his members had the most to gain from the extension of the Wellington runway, they were opposed to the extension unless it included a RESA of 240m, as provided in both International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and New Zealand’s own Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) safety regulations.
He also offered an alternative to an increased RESA.
NZALPA was advocating an internationally recognised safety system known as an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS), which is a crushable cellular material installed on an existing RESA, to decelerate an aircraft in an emergency.
This system is in use globally and has already been successful in stopping aircraft and saving lives in incidents at both New York’s John F. Kennedy and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airports amongst others.
NZALPA’s submission included an affidavit from international aviation safety expert Brian Greeves, who has worked on award-winning airport runway safety systems around the globe, including Hong Kong’s Wind Shear and Turbulence Warning Safety Systems – considered amongst the most sophisticated system available in the world.
Mr Greeves, who has 48 years’ experience as both a military and commercial pilot, noted WIAL had used data to show that the present aircraft mix using its airport runway would be contained within a 90m RESA.
“However, if the extended runway attracted new long-haul international services, then it could be expected that this aircraft mix would change to include larger and heavier aircraft operated by crews unfamiliar with the airport.”
Although acknowledging the costs of installing a 240 meter RESA or an EMAS system for any airport, in his affidavit Greeves stated that “the financial losses if just one [Boeing] B777 or [Airbus] A330 aircraft were to overrun the runway and 90m RESA with substantial fatalities [it] would more than outweigh the quoted construction cost, without taking into account the human cost.”
Earlier this month, NZALPA’s representative Hugh Rennie QC filed appeal documents with the Court of Appeal against the High Court’s decision to turn down a review of the 90-metre safety area for an extended Wellington Airport runway by NZALPA.
NZALPA President Tim Robinson said “Wellington is a very challenging airport for pilots and is renowned globally as such”.
He also went on to say that “We’re also concerned about the precedent any resource consent decisions may set in safety terms, given potential extensions in the future to other challenging but increasingly popular airports such as Queenstown and Wanaka.”
“NZALPA is not opposed to a WIAL runway extension per se, just not at the cost of safety, human lives and New Zealand’s international reputation.”
Lisa-Marie Richan, +64 27 278 0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org