1493087317180 - Airports warn Transport Minister: Change the law or services will be shut down

Airports warn Transport Minister: Change the law or services will be shut down

Jet services could end to some regions if a court ruling forces the aviation watchdog to change its decision making, New Zealand’s airports are warning.

The New Zealand Airports Association has written to Transport Minister Simon Bridges seeking an urgent law change to prevent a court decision from requiring the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to remove cost from its calculations of whether longer safety areas are practicable.

In February the Court of Appeal ordered the director of civil aviation, Graeme Harris, to change the way he determines whether runway safety areas (RESA) are acceptable.

The order came after the Airline Pilots’ Association challenged the CAA’s finding for Wellington Airport’s safety area in its proposed runway extension.

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The Court of Appeal said the CAA should not consider cost as a substantial factor in determining whether a longer RESA is practicable.

In a letter to Bridges on March 14, released under the Official Information Act, the NZ Airports Association said the decision could have a “pronounced” impact on New Zealand’s air services.

“The outcome may see some airports lose the ability to serve jet traffic and turbo prop services, or operating with significant payload restrictions,” the letter, written by chairman Steve Sanderson and chief executive Kevin Ward said.

“We think the best and most sustainable solution will be to review the intent and the wording of the current [Civil Aviation] Act” to give the CAA the mandate to balance cost with safety in the public interest.

While Sanderson, Wellington Airport’s chief executive, has already made the warnings publicly, the letter reflected the position of the wider executive committee, Ward said.

The committee has members from most of New Zealand’s major airports, including Queenstown Airport chief executive Colin Keel.

Queenstown, a key tourist hub, is rumoured in the industry to be among the most potentially affected by the Court of Appeal ruling, but which has so far refused to comment.

Like Wellington, Queenstown operates with a 90m RESA, the minimum under international aviation rules. Extending the Queenstown RESA would appear to require building further into the delta of the Shotover River.

Although the CAA is refusing to discuss the situation with the media, documents it has filed with the Supreme Court show it at least broadly agrees with the airports’ position.

Wellington Airport and the CAA have both applied for leave to appeal the Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court. Ward said it was possible the NZ Airports Association would attempt to join the appeal.

Almost all of New Zealand’s airports operate with RESAs of less than the recommended minimum 240m, with the approval of the CAA.

Bridges declined to comment on the letter, as the matter was before the courts.