Sustainable Tarras deputy chairwoman Marilyn Duxson said Mr Johns had been the "chief sponsor" of the proposed Tarras airport and his departure would be a "perfect opportunity" for the board to cancel it.
Tarras Airport opponents yesterday renewed their call to the Christchurch International Airport Ltd (CIAL) board to stop the proposed development near the small Central Otago town beside the Mata-au/Clutha River, after a board announcement on Monday that Mr Johns will leave his role on March 1.
But the CIAL board strongly indicated that work would continue to develop Christchurch Airport’s growth strategy and "intergenerational" focus with or without Mr Johns.
Christchurch Airport board chairwoman Catherine Drayton said the company was in a good place.
"Christchurch Airport has a stronger balance sheet than before the pandemic and a new post-Covid strategy that focuses on growing the company’s business at its Christchurch campus, expanding its business with intergenerational projects such as the Central Otago airport and the recently announced Kowhai Park solar projects," she said.
CIAL Tarras project leader Michael Singleton said the board was committed to continuing to pursue its current strategy, which included growing the company’s business at its Christchurch campus and expanding its horizons with intergenerational projects such as the Central Otago airport project.
Mr Singleton said Mr Johns’ appointment as chief executive of Genesis Energy was an exciting opportunity for him to continue leading New Zealand’s climate transition.
"We wish him well in that role.
"Our board is committed to continuing to pursue its current strategy, which includes growing the company’s business at its Christchurch campus and expanding its horizons with intergenerational projects such as the Central Otago airport project," Mr Singleton said.
Stop Central Otago Airport spokeswoman Zella Downing, of Hāwea Flat, said Mr Johns was abandoning a risky and costly project, that ratepayers and taxpayers would have to pick up "if things go wrong".
"Malcolm Johns ... had just announced he is leaving in six months. By the time the project has the potential to start costing taxpayers and ratepayers, those executives and board members will most likely be long gone," Ms Downing said.
CIAL plans to release its preferred runway alignment this year, then an environmental planning report, with the airport master plan due mid-next year.
The first "decision gateway" will also come mid-2023, with the airport board scheduled to decide whether the case stacks up and whether to enter the resource consent phase.
If all goes to the airport’s plan, a three to five-year construction phase could begin as soon as 2027.
CIAL spent $45 million buying 750ha of Tarras dairy farm land in 2020.