Dunedin aurora flights unlikely

The aurora australis viewed from "Flight to the Lights'', in March 2017. PHOTO: BRAD PHIPPS
The aurora australis viewed from "Flight to the Lights'', in March 2017. PHOTO: BRAD PHIPPS
Flights to the aurora australis on the edge of the Antarctic are unlikely to be run from Dunedin again in the foreseeable future, organisers say.

Otago Museum director and former Nasa Space Telescope Science Institute public outreach head Ian Griffin co-ordinated the southern hemisphere's first aurora charter from Dunedin on a Boeing 767 in March 2017.

The flight lasted about eight hours and passengers enjoyed memorable views of the southern lights.

Unfortunately, Air New Zealand retired its last 767 soon after the flight.

At present, he said no aircraft in its fleet was capable of reaching the auroral zone from Dunedin Airport because the runway was too short and not strong enough to safely support the weight of the heavier aircraft required to reach the auroral zone.

So last year, the flight took place on a larger Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which flew in and out of Christchurch.

It was hoped the flight could be run from Dunedin again this year, using a new Air New Zealand Airbus A321neo - a longish-range aircraft which is small enough to land at Dunedin Airport.

But following more in-depth research, Dr Griffin found the new plane did not have the capability to make the long-haul flight a reality.

"Unfortunately, it just can't do what we need it to do.

"Even though it could potentially fly out from Dunedin, it just doesn't have the range that is needed to do an aurora flight.''

He said it was unlikely flights to the aurora would fly from Dunedin again.

"A key thing would be to have an aircraft that could fly a mission from Dunedin.

"We would love to do it, but to get a Boeing 767 here would be very expensive now because nobody flies them in this part of the world.

"The Dreamliner can't land here in Dunedin, and neither can a Boeing 777.

"So Dunedin would need to extend its runway, but that would be outrageously expensive and you wouldn't do it just for this project.

"Until we get some next-generation aircraft that can land on Dunedin's runway and fly the flight, we'll probably have to go from Christchurch.''


Is it time we got a new airport CEO? The current one keeps saying there are no plans to extend the runway, and there is no demand for it either.

Whereas some people who seem to be in the know, say that we're barely holding on to our last international flight. These people said that the only reason we still have the Brisbane flight is because the airline/s get heavily discounted, or even free landings. And that fact that it lands at such a late time, at/close to, or after midnight is just absurd. A lot of people choose to fly back via Chch instead as you get home to Dunedin at a reasonable time.

Other people have said that you can't just sit back and wait for airlines to ask for a longer runway, as apparently they won't ask and will just keep flying elsewhere. I've read comments from a couple of airlines, like in this article, saying they can't land here because of the short runway, but no-one is taking the hint.

There's so many residents of this city who keep wishing we had a longer runway too, seems everyone except the people running the airport support the idea.

Maybe it's time the ODT or someone did a resident survey, and find out if all this information is true?