Thank you for the opportunity to submit on the Kāpiti Coast District Council Long-Term plan 2021-41.
Save Kāpiti Airport is a coalition of Kāpiti locals who are fighting to keep our airport open. We will confine our comments to Significant Proposal 2: Should Council explore ways to have a role in the airport?
Public opinion polling conducted for Save Kāpiti Airport shows extraordinarily high levels of support for keeping the airport open along locals, who see it as important to the economic future of the region as well as an important asset for medical emergencies and following a major disaster.
Save Kāpiti Airport strongly supports the proposal for the KCDC to explore ways it can have a role in the airport. We see this as vital to securing the future of this piece of strategic infrastructure.
The importance of the Airport
Kāpiti Coast Airport is a unique and irreplaceable asset. The only paved runway between Wellington and Palmerston North, it is well connected via the railway and expressway to the region. We support the restoration of Ngāti Puketapu’s mana over the land and the development of surplus land, while retaining the core airport as an asset for the future.
Over 100,000 people live within half an hour of the airport, with 1,500 new houses expected in the KCDC area alone in the next seven years. As Kāpiti continues to grow, with additional health, educational, and cultural infrastructure expected over coming years, the need for an airport will only increase.
KCDC has an important leadership role to play in protecting the airport and charting the path for its future. The future of such a major asset will impact greatly on the community and other infrastructure, and so cannot be left entirely to private interests. Moreover, as an agency of the Crown, KCDC has a duty as Treaty partner to respect and uphold the interests of the mana whenua of the airport land. We would like to see KCDC lead these conversations on the airport’s future.
Kāpiti Coast Airport is served by commercial passenger flights operated by Air Chathams and Sounds Air, connecting to Auckland, Christchurch, Nelson, Blenheim, and the Chatham Islands. Heliworx operates from the airport for scenic and commercial flights and there is an active aero club. Kāpiti Airport offers a significant business and tourism link, creating economic benefit to the Kāpiti Region.
The airport injects $4.3 million into the local economy. This could expand greatly through use of the airport for electric aircraft, with the airport well-positioned for short-haul electric flights, and other innovation. Uncertainty about the future of the airport is preventing investment.
A KCDC survey in Dec 2020 revealed, 95% of Kāpiti Coast residents agreed it is important to the community to have an operational airport in Kāpiti. Transmission Gully and the Otaki Expressway will accelerate growth on the Kāpiti Coast. It’s important the area is serviced by air transport links to other centres.
We estimate that about half of the airport’s 120 hectares can be redeveloped without sacrificing core airport and runway. This kind of development would allow construction of commercial, residential, and cultural facilities while keeping the airport in service.
The Aeromedical Retrieval Service uses Kāpiti Coast Airport as an alternative to Wellington Airport and an “essential lifeline” to transport critically ill patients, including children. It also supports Organ Donation NZ services based in Auckland Hospital.
Capital and Coast District Health Board and Lifeflight Trust have used the airport for fixed-wing flights over 30 times in the last six months. Lifeflight Trust has reported 60 helicopter missions into the airport over the last two years.
The Wellington Regional Policy Statement classifies Kāpiti Coast Airport as “Regionally Significant Infrastructure”. In the event of a large-scale earthquake disaster in the Wellington region, the airport may be a key staging area for supplying Wellington.
Modelling for the Wellington Lifelines Utilities studies shows that a large earthquake striking Wellington would likely close all road links to the rest of the country (and split the urban area into several ‘islands’), close Wellington International Airport, at least temporarily, and make the harbour unusable until hydrographic soundings had taken place and wharves and berths had been cleared of material like logs.
The Lifelines report notes “following a major earthquake, resources will also be required to supply likely logistical operations at Paraparaumu Airport in accordance with MCDEM’s Wellington Initial National Emergency Response Plan… The Kāpiti Coast will host staging areas for the support of the Wellington metropolitan area. Paraparaumu airport is planned to be a key helicopter-based supply chain node supplying Wellington.”
It has been noted that Kāpiti Coast Airport is itself in a tsunami zone and there is a chance it could be inundated. That is not a certainty. A disaster that isolates Wellington may well have minimal effects on Kāpiti Coast Airport. As found in the LifeLines Report, the tsunami risk to Kāpiti Coast Airport is not grounds to dismiss it as a potentially important strategic asset in a major Wellington disaster. Note that the test for inclusion in Schedule 1 of the CDEM Act is that “reduced availability, or non-availability, of [the service or system] would constitute a hazard”.
The presence of Kāpiti Coast Airport provides an alternative that could prove critical if the specific earthquake severely damages or isolates Rongotai. This option is permanently lost if the airport is closed and built over.
If Kāpiti Coast Airport is lost, the only paved runways within 100km of Wellington are unsuitable:
- Picton Aerodrome, 70km from Wellington: too short for Hercules and C-17s, and requiring a flight over the Cook Strait increasing danger and risk of weather disruptions
- Hood Aerodrome at Masterton, 80km from Wellington: requiring a flight over the Tararua Range, increasing danger and risk of weather disruptions
- Woodbourne Airbase/Marlborough Airport at Blenheim, 80km from Wellington: requiring a flight over the Cook Strait increasing danger risk of weather disruptions).
Ohakea and Palmerston North Airport are 130km away from Wellington. This would increase the distance of each helicopter flight 160%, adding 160km to a return flight or around 40 minutes flight time for an NH-90, compared to flights from Kāpiti Coast Airport. This would severely reduce the sortie rate the helicopters could achieve. Supplying Wellington in such a disaster will push New Zealand’s airlift capacity to its limits – adding such a large flight time penalty will only mean residents of Wellington get less help.
Polling conducted by Community Engagement Ltd on behalf of Save Kāpiti Airport shows strong public support for the airport and government intervention to keep it open:
Do you support or oppose the proposed closure of Kāpiti Coast Airport?
Oppose: 85%, Support: 15%
Do you believe the Government should step in and stop the proposed closure of Kāpiti Coast Airport?
Yes: 83%, No; 17%
How important is this issue to you?
Very or Extremely Important: 59%, Somewhat Important: 29%, Not very or not at all important: 13%
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘Kāpiti Coast Airport is an important economic asset for the community’?
Agree/Strongly Agree: 78%, Neutral 14%, Disagree/Strongly Disagree: 8%
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘Kāpiti Coast Airport is vital for Civil Defence in case of a major earthquake in the Wellington region’?
Agree/Strongly Agree: 82%, Neutral 11%, Disagree/Strongly Disagree: 7%
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘Kāpiti Coast Airport is a vital lifeline for medical emergencies’?
Agree/Strongly Agree: 81%, Neutral 12%, Disagree/Strongly Disagree: 7%
How important is Kāpiti Coast Airport for the future economic development of the Kāpiti Coast?
Very or Extremely Important: 72%, Somewhat Important: 21%, Not very or not at all important: 7%
Comments on details of Significant Proposal 2
Save Kāpiti Airport strongly agrees with the statement in the Securing Our Future document that “There may be a role for the Council and Government in Kāpiti Coast Airport. As representatives of their communities, local and central government are best placed to realise the economic benefits that flow from airports.”
The community benefits of the airport (economic, medical, and disaster relief) are not fully captured by the airport owners. They bear costs, which they claim make operating the airport uneconomic, while the community gets benefits it does not pay for. This market failure could lead to the loss of a strategic asset. In this circumstance, local or central government taking a role is entirely appropriate – and in keeping with most other airports in the country.
The document identifies two ways council could take a role in the airport (although noting there may be others):
• operate the airport, for example under a lease
• own the airport (potentially in partnership), either ― operating it ― outsourcing operations
Save Kāpiti Airport would support either of these options.
Securing Our Future also notes:
• the operation should be self-funding, requiring little or no ratepayer funding;
• operating risks should be clearly identified and of an acceptable type and scale;
• options should focus on longer-term outcomes, particularly the growth prospects for both Kāpiti Coast and the region, and how the airport contributes.
We would support the development of surplus land on the site to help pay for council involvement. The core airport makes up only a fraction of the total land it currently holds – 43 out of 124 hectares. Much of the other 81 hectares could be profitably developed for commercial and residential use to meet the costs of the airport.
Lastly, Save Kāpiti Airport supports
• mana whenua aspirations and historical rights being addressed fairly
• the desirability of partnering such as with mana whenua, government, or the private sector.
Restoration of the mana of Ngāti Puketapu must be an intrinsic part of the future of the airport. This could include the hapū partnering in the development of the surplus land.
We also think there is a role for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development’s Land for Housing unit and Kāinga Ora in any arrangement that would see the site purchased from the owners and the unneeded land developed.