How we derived the 12
We analysed the financial performance, patronage and funding available to New Zealand’s smaller airports to establish a list of airports at risk. Their communities are equally at risk of a diminution of air connectivity and the associated economic and social loss that accompanies a reduction in air links.
We classified airports broadly into four categories, with different levels of commercial viability.
- Our international gateways, Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, are in robust health.
- Similarly, trans-Tasman airports Queenstown and Dunedin perform well.
- Among the regional airports, there are a number with multiple daily flights to a number of destinations. These airports, such as Nelson and Napier are also able to fund their own infrastructure upkeep.
- However, it is a fourth tier of airport, which we have classified as non-commercial, which face escalating funding pressures.
At least 12 airports do not fit a fully commercial model, and depend on ratepayer funding which is increasingly unsustainable among other local priorities.
Many of the regions these airports serve are already sparsely populated - Buller in particular has a population density of only 1.3 per square kilometre. Additionally, many of the regions in which these districts sit have higher than average proportions of Māori residents (such as the Chathams and the Far North).
Community dependence on air links
Each small airport serves communities in their catchment that are among the most vulnerable and isolated. These population centres are most in need of air access to larger centres and the facilities, such as hospitals, they provide.
The air link that services Chatham Island / Rēkohu and neighbouring Pitt Island / Rangiaotea, for example, is essential to the survival of the Chatham Islands’ community.
In Northland, Kaitaia and Kerikeri Airports serve small towns from Cape Rienga to Hokianga. Gisborne is 3 hours drive to the next airport. On the West Coast of the South Island, Hokitika and Westport airports provide vital links for inhabitants from Karamea to Fox Glacier.
In particular, we are concerned about maintaining the core assets and reliability of airports serving the following local communities:
- Chatham Islands
- Far North
- Bay of Islands
- The Wairarapa
It is an inequitable for our nation to leave small numbers of ratepayers to shoulder this responsibility
Tourism at risk
A recent report for Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) found airport infrastructure to be a key hurdle to attracting more tourists to New Zealand regions. Once again, Northland and West Coast were highlighted as the regions for issues in airports and related facilities, alongside Gisborne.
In West Coast and Northland, respondents to the TIA survey of potential tourists cited unattractive flight options at Westport and Kerikeri airports. Limited flight options make it harder for visitors, particularly domestic and business visitors, to access the regions.
As services shift from Air New Zealand to independent regional airlines, there is a loss of international and national marketing of smaller destinations. There is also an associated loss of interline services and baggage transfers, making domestic transfers to smaller airports more difficult for travellers.
There is a fear that the downgrading of air services will have a further detrimental affect on the ability of these regions to grow tourism - a key economic and jobs driver.