You may have seen or read this article on www.newsroom.co.nz referencing “ghost” airports. An opinion piece by Dr Paul Callister, following on from his submission to the Kāpiti Coast District Council on its proposed Long-Term plan.
He outlines a vision for a ’15-minute neighbourhood’ with easy access to local facilities and attractions, protection for environmental features and a modern, effective alternative to sprawling suburbs that allow for more affordable and accessible housing.
It’s a great future vision and aligns with what we believe should happen with the land that’s currently up for debate. However, some key statements in the article need to be addressed to provide a balanced view of the situation our community is facing.
The 2018 survey commissioned by the Council referenced in the article was focused on retaining air services to the region and not the airport itself after Air New Zealand said it was withdrawing their services – ahead of Air Chathams committing to Kāpiti. At the time of the survey, the future of the airport itself was not uncertain.
Financial concerns about the economic viability of the airport are often touched upon by the media and by the airport owners themselves, but the truth is no airports are financially viable without commercial income – even the larger ones, like Wellington Airport.
Unfortunately, recent article-writers have been erroneously guided to omit the income from commercial tenants at Kāpiti Landing, including huge retailers such as Mitre 10 Mega and New World. Income is income, and that land was developed commercially on the specific proviso that the income would support the airport operations.
The future of electric aviation is revitalising regional airports. A recent event held at Kāpiti Coast Airport demonstrated the use of an electric aeroplane – these are expected to play a considerable role in all domestic passenger aviation in coming years. Thanks to the Kāpiti Aero Club, Kāpiti has shown itself an early supporter and forward thinker in this area.
It’s also important to think about New Zealand’s geography. Not only does it lend itself well to electric aviation, Kāpiti is a vital point on the map for an alternative airport to Wellington and Palmerston North. Keeping it operational will undoubtedly be important for future electric plane flight routes, maximum distances and capabilities as this technology develops. Currently, electric aircraft can achieve about 90 minutes of flight time.
The Newsroom piece paints a romantic picture of other forms of public transport. Yet we already know in our region that the Government has turned down the electrification of rail from Ōtaki to Palmerston North, and other modes as mooted in the article aren’t viable.
With foresight, regional airports improve a community’s socio-economic well-being by attracting businesses and attracting people to do business here. It’s been proven housing alone doesn’t increase economic growth.
Thoughtless or entirely profit-driven housing creates too much of a strain on infrastructure. Peak times (or the smallest interruption) already sees Kāpiti Road slow to a congested, frustrating crawl, schools are bursting at the seams, water is an issue every drought season, and we only must look at Wellington’s water woes to see what happens through a lack of investment in vital infrastructure.
We want to stimulate vibrant, carefully managed growth that keeps pace with sustainability, which is why a mixed-use model is the best option for this valuable district asset. Dr Callister mentions the question of whānau buy-backs of the airport land as being discussed and an important issue, but that use of the land is too.
Our stance, and a stance of ethical thinking, is that a mixed-use future while retaining the airport is the way forward for all stakeholders. Unfortunately, a large property group – with no airport experience and a history of huge-scale housing developments – at the other end of the country has the reins, and it doesn’t matter what they say – the best interests they are focusing on are unlikely to be anything other than their own.