The proposal by the Councils of Waitakere City, North Shore City and Rodney District, and Infratil to bring civil aviation to Auckland’s Whenuapai Airport.
Infratil and the three Councils of Auckland’s north west joined forces to try and bring civil aviation to Whenuapai Airport. At present the Airport is only used for military and civil defence purposes, but it has ample unutilised capacity and it makes sense for the Air Force to share the facility as it would lower their costs. The economic, social and even environmental logic of the Council-Infratil proposal is compelling. A decision about the Airport’s future is in the hands of Government.
Until 1965 Whenuapai was Auckland’s main commercial airport. In that year civil operations transferred to Mangere and Whenuapai became a purely military and civil defence facility. In 2002 Government announced that RNZAF operations at Whenuapai were to be moved to Ohakea in the Manawatu. At that time it was thought the shift would be done by 2007. When the 2002 announcement was made Waitakere City Council initiated a project to replace the departing military aviation activities with civil services. One of its first actions was to select a commercial partner to provide expertise and capital for the project. The joint venture established between Waitakere and Infratil then made a proposal to the Government to be allowed to initiate civil operations at the Airport while the military ones were running down. Then, when Military use had ceased, Waitakere would buy the Airport under the rules for disposal of Crown land as set out in the Public Works Act. In 2004, after further consideration of the logistical issues Government decided that it may take until 2014 before the military operations shift south. The logic of initiating civil use as soon as possible was not impacted by the delay to cessation of military operations. Land ownership issues could be sorted out later. To progress joint-use Waitakere and Infratil formed a company, North West Auckland Airport Limited (NorthWest). Because they also support the initiative, North Shore City and Rodney District Councils were invited to also become shareholders in NorthWest and both took up this invitation.
The Current Situation
At present the process is in hiatus. There is an airport company, NorthWest, which has no airport and an airport, Whenuapai, which is under used and is gradually being run down. The next step on the process is expected to be a decision by Cabinet on a more definite timetable for the Military movement to Ohakea. Where this could make a difference is if Government decides to delay some of the shift south permanently which is possible if studies of the costs and benefits of the shift indicate that a total shift would cost too much. In this situation it is likely that Government would look more actively at joint-use of the Airport. The Air Force’s other base is at Woodburn in Marlborough and this is operated on a joint-use basis with the Marlborough District Council, so there is a precedent for Military-Civil airport operations.
Because of renewed political interest in civil use of Whenuapai, NorthWest produced a primer on the topic which aims to summarise all the key issues surrounding the project including the likely noise and pollution impact of civil aviation.
Waitakere City Council Waitakere City Council's submission to New Zealand Defence Forces for the use of Whenuapai Airport for civil purposes, together with Infratil's submission 20 January 2004.
Waitakere City Council Presentation on Whenuapai Airport to the Auckland Regional Growth Forum 25 February 2004