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4 Aug 2020

A new approach to aviation in the lower South Island

Christchurch Airport is exploring the long-term potential of building a world-class sustainable airport on 750 hectares of land near Tarras.

We’ve long seen the potential of a new airport in Central Otago – it would ensure future generations of South Islanders and South Island businesses can remain connected to the rest of the world.

This site was chosen as it is close to existing infrastructure and is easily accessible to a number of regions. Its topography would enable airlines to use their most sustainable aircraft.

While the concept would deliver widespread social and economic benefits to regions across the South Island, it is a long way from becoming a reality.

Christchurch Airport chief executive Malcolm Johns says there is a prima facie case for unserviced demand for air travel but there is a lot of work to do before deciding that the concept is viable.

“Most importantly that involves having a conversation with the Central Otago community, especially those who live close to the site. We have a history of doing things with communities, not to them.”

“We want to sit down with as many people as possible one-on-one so we understand their thoughts, concerns and questions. We may not be able to solve everything for everybody, but we’d like to try.”

“We’re in the early stages of a very long-term project. If we do proceed, the conversations we are having now will enable us to factor in the community’s feedback into any design.”

What do we know about the concept?

We’ve taken the unusual step of announcing the plan before any official proposal is established. This means we are still exploring the detail.

The $45m purchase of the 750 hectares of land near the intersections of State Highways 8 and 8A was initiated and funded by our business which is a stand alone commerical entity with a board of directors.

The site is easily accessible to a number of regions including Central Otago, Upper Clutha, Mackenzie and Queenstown Lakes District.

This means it will be convenient for residents and any visitors that arrive can be dispersed over a wide area of the South Island.

While planning how people would get to and from any airport will be part of the feasibility stage (we’re keen to look at sustainable transport options), the site is easily accessed by road being:

  • A 20-minute drive from Cromwell
  • 40 minutes’ drive from Alexandra
  • 20 minutes’ drive from Wanaka and Lake Hawea
  • Just over an hour’s drive from Queenstown, Twizel and the Waitaki District
  • Just under two hours’ drive to Lake Tekapo
  • Just under four hours’ drive to Franz Josef
  • Just over two hours to Oamaru

If we proceed, the final design would be shaped by the conversations we’ll have with the community and other South Islanders over coming months. However, our current thinking is to start with a 2.2km, jet-capable runway and a small terminal building.

We would build in modules so the airport could grow to meet any future need.

Building from scratch would enable us to design and build one of the world’s most sustainable airports.

Why has Christchurch Airport taken this step?

As an 80 year old company, Christchurch Airport has been creating opportunities for generations of South Islanders.

Using our experience, and capital, to build this airport would ensure the South Island is able to take advantage of future aviation trends (including the use of more sustainable aircraft) and remains well-connected to the rest of the world.

Christchurch Airport’s mission is to champion the South Island so this is a natural part of what we do.

But we don’t want to do this alone. We want to get South Islanders working together and letting us know what they’d like to see (or not see) if the concept gets to the next stage.

What are the timeframes?

There are none.

We’ve simply brought the land so we have a viable proposal and have some initial thinking (as outlined above) that we are now keen to test with others.

Since we started this project, aviation and tourism globally have been severely impacted by COVID19. While we are confident the sectors will recover, the speed that happens clearly impacts on this project’s feasibility.

We don’t see any construction onsite for at least five years and are relaxed about land-banking. We are a long term holder of land and expect that some time in the next decade the case for this airport could materialise.

"This is an opportunity for South Islanders to work together to create one of the most sustainable airports in the world and make a real difference for future generations."

- Malcolm Johns, Chief Executive

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