A $20 million runway extension for Dunedin International
Airport is a case of "not if but when", airport chief executive
John McCall says.
He confirmed this week the company was talking to several
long-haul budget carriers about flying into Dunedin, with a
500m runway extension "essential to their business".
The extension would enable larger aircraft, from as far
afield as the United States or Southeast Asia, to land at the
airport, an attractive option for long-haul budget airlines,
A $20 million runway extension would be a "hard sell" project
for the airport, jointly owned by the Dunedin City Council
and the Crown, because the "community may not have the
appetite for this sort of risk".
Invercargill took a similar risk by extending its runway in
2005, at a cost of $5 million, but no international carrier
had committed to the airport, he said.
"Our company would not take on that business risk unless we
have commitments. As far as a runway extension for Dunedin is
concerned, it is a case of not if but when."
If a carrier committed to the airport, a runway extension
could be built within a year, as the airport company owned
the neighbouring properties and had resource consent, he
"It is something we have always signalled in our plans."
While airlines such as Air New Zealand were suspending
transtasman flights from Dunedin and Hamilton, long-haul
budget airlines were going from strength to strength, despite
a worldwide economic downturn.
When deciding to fly into Australia for the first time,
budget carrier Air Asia X opted for the Gold Coast rather
than Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, Mr McCall said.
A Boeing 747 jumbo flight would add about $1 million of gross
domestic product to Otago's economy, so it was not just the
airport which would benefit.
"There is no doubt air travel is still the way of the
Long-haul budget airlines preferred flying into airports with
a 24-hour rating and Christchurch and Dunedin were the likely
South Island options.
The city's attractions and close proximity to Queenstown were
major selling points, he said.
Tourism Dunedin chief executive Hamish Saxton said budget
airlines had strong passenger numbers, as they had a "point
of difference" compared with major carriers.
Budget long-haul carriers often preferred smaller airports,
which were cheaper to fly in and out of, and "Dunedin would
be seen as a gateway alternative airport to Christchurch".
"If the only thing holding us back is the correct runway
length, then doing something about it would give us a greater
chance of being able to service their needs".
Dunedin International Airport chairman and city councillor
Richard Walls told the Otago Daily Times he hoped to see the
runway extended and "747s coming in from Shanghai".
"This is the sort of infrastructure spend that should be
looked at. Christchurch did it and look what happened."