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NZ’s local airports need urgent government help - Linking the Long White Cloud

As many as 12 airports up and down New Zealand face an uncertain future under funding pressures, a new paper released today by the New Zealand Airports Association (NZ Airports) has found.

The association has launched a campaign to raise awareness among local communities and politicians of the inappropriate funding framework for our smaller airports.

NZ Airports used an event in Parliament last night to call for government funding to ensure the survival of local airports.

“Small airports are an endangered species. Unlike the rest of the national transport network, they have been largely ignored by successive governments, and are only surviving because of subsidies from local councils and ratepayers.

“Air links are essential to regional economic growth, jobs, social cohesion, and disaster response.  In the regions a trip for specialised medical care is often by air ambulance.  It is the most efficient way to deliver health services nationwide. But you can’t have 24 hour medical flights without safe, reliable airports. 

“Our roads are repeatedly shown to be fragile in disasters, and rapid response and recovery will often need air access.  Local airports have an essential civil defence role.

“Airports large and small have many of the same infrastructure and safety requirements to meet. Yet smaller airports often cannot recoup the necessary financial outlay through landing charges, due to the lower flight volumes. This imbalance has provoked a funding shortfall that is met instead by local councils, who already face competing investment priorities.

“Airports with smaller numbers of passengers and flights cannot and should not be expected to fully fund themselves. Yet they are still needed and still have to meet strict safety standards. Re-sealing a runway or replacing decades-old landing lights is a big burden for local ratepayers.

“It is completely unfair to ask small isolated communities to fund this part of the national transport network.  There’s a national funding system for state highways.  Millions of dollars are poured into roads and rail.  For less than the cost of one bridge the government could secure the future for local airports and air services, says Mr Ward.

The association is asking for cross-party support in the run up to the Election, and swift action by the new government.  The FlyLocal NZ campaign will encourage public support from residents in the affected communities and beyond to make their voices heard.

NZ Airports has found that government support is common in other parts of the world. In Australia, Europe, the USA and Canada, national or state government support for regional aviation is commonplace, usually to ensure a national air network is maintained.

In its position paper, Linking the Long White Cloud, the association proposes a two-part solution to the current funding crisis. First, that small airports will continue to pay for operating costs, mainly from airport charges, but infrastructure upkeep would attract national support. And second, underwriting fit-for-purpose air services to affected communities would ensure continuity of service. In the model proposed by NZ Airports, the fund would be a partnership between local and central government.

NZ Airports identified 12 airports that should be supported by the proposed fund, at an estimated cost of $32 million over five years.  The fund would ensure minimum standards are maintained for critical assets such as landing lights, runways, taxiways and terminals.

The airports named by the association are: Chatham Islands (Tuuta), Gisborne, Hokitika, Kaitaia, Kerikeri (Bay of Islands), Masterton (Hood), Taupō*, Timaru (Richard Pearce), Westport*, Whakatāne*, Whanganui* and Whangarei*. Five of these airports (*) are joint venture airports in which government owns a 50% stake and, as such, receive limited funding for infrastructure projects. The campaign aims to level the playing field across all 12 airports.