There’s a new jet airport being planned for Central Otago. Based in Tarras, it will be an hour from one existing international airport, and around three hours from two others. It will drive huge amounts of jet traffic.
Yet New Zealanders didn’t ask for this, Central Otago doesn’t need it, the locals weren’t even consulted, and the airport company behind it is from Christchurch.
They are serious about building a substantial airport in Central Otago. One that will take domestic jets, jet freighters and wide bodied jets which could fly direct from Asia or even North America.
Based on the level of investment planned into the new airport, once the airport is operational there is likely to be 70-100 flights in or out every 24 hours – details below. And don’t think they’ll ultimately make this a daytime only operation.
There’s more information on this page, or browse some of our recent news items below for latest updates.
- In 2020, a mystery man spent $45 million on 450ha of farmland in Tarras. He paid twice market value and told the vendors that it was for agriculture.
- On 22 July 2020, local journalist Peter Newport from Crux revealed that the real buyer was Christchurch Airport. Locals were shocked and blindsided.
- This forced Christchurch Airport (Christchurch International Airport Ltd) to come out and confirm that yes, indeed, they had been secretly buying up property, and had been planning this move for two years.
- Executives from Christchurch Airport have confirmed that an international airport is planned. They will spend “a minimum of $350-400 million” (subsequently they’ve said more likely $600 million) and planning has been underway for some time.
- They plan a 2.2km runway – big enough for big (wide bodied) jets from overseas – with room for expansion in the future. They say this is a great place for a new airport, and that New Zealand needs this crucial infrastructure.
- Executives from the airport company say that the airport should be operational by 2030, and they are underway with planning. They are already talking with Council, the Government and other decision makers.
- Christchurch Airport was due to come out with their runway plans (and therefore flight paths) early in 2021, but they delayed releasing them until September 2021.
- The flight path profiles and runway alignments now released confirm that Christchurch Airport is planning international jets, including possibly wide bodied jets from Asia, China and the USA, and that jets will fly over Cromwell at around 1200 meters, and right over the bird sanctuary at Bendigo at around 200 meters above the river.
- This is not good news for the communities of Tarras, Cromwell, Lake Dunstan, Wānaka and the Upper Clutha, or for Central Otago or New Zealand more generally.
- On the 29th of September 2021, the Otago Daily Times published an article saying that Christchurch Airport’s “reprehensible and Greedy proposal” is “like a horror movie”. We couldn’t agree more.
- There has since been a great deal of discussion, debate and frustration. Christchurch Airport has refused to have an open town-hall meeting (organised by them) with the people of Tarras, and any groups (including ours) raising concerns have been met with “see updates on our website” and “it’s early days yet”.
- In January 2023, a group of 11 leading academics from around the country wrote an open letter. In short, based on all the available science and research, they say that the new airport should not proceed. Read more in our updates section.
- Within a few weeks, the list of scientists opposing the airport in Tarras on scientific grounds had swelled to 79 signatories. They also published a comprehensive index of research, data and analysis, found here. Christchurch Airport’s response? Their concerns are “premature”.
Already plenty of airport capacity
In the lower South Island, we already have three international jet airports. Only an hour away from Tarras by car, Queenstown already allows for dozens of flights per day. Around 3 hours away from Tarras, both Dunedin and Invercargill airports already have the infrastructure to handle jets, and plenty of spare capacity. And most ironic of all, Christchurch Airport could double its existing flight numbers under existing consents.
750ha of pristine agricultural land
The site for Central Otago Airport is a huge piece of land in the middle of a stunning and peaceful part of Central Otago. Just half an hour from Wanaka, Cromwell and the top of the Lindis Pass, the Tarras basin would be shattered by a new, busy jet airport and all of the associated airport activities.
Are they being straight with us?
There’s good reason to believe that Christchurch Airport already have their plans in place, and have no intention of putting the needs of Central Otago, Christchurch ratepayers, or indeed New Zealanders ahead of their organisation’s profit-making imperative. Even in their first few interviews, their stories didn’t match up. Now they are promising “consultation”, but one rather suspects that they’ll just merrily go through the motions and carry on with their plans.
Radio NZ, 24/07/20
“Planning for the project started about 18 months ago and [we] began buying the land nine months ago”
Malcolm johnsCEO, Christchurch Airport
Radio NZ, 30/07/20
“We don’t have any plans. We have an idea.”
Michael SingletonChristchurch Airport
“I’m saying we made an informed decision, and we have a plan.”
Malcolm JohnsCEO, Christchurch Airport
Well over 70 flights per day
With a minimum $350-400 million investment to build this airport, Central Otago Airport is going to be big, and busy.
Based on recent analysis of industry standard ROI expectations for similar airports,* this level of investment by an airport company will ultimately require a minimum of approximately 70 flights in or out of Central Otago Airport per day. And the CEO has indicated that investment could be as high as $600 million at the outset (which would lead to more like 100 flights per day). He has also indicated that the airport can get much bigger “as the demand curve grows”, meaning that you could expect even more flights.
* this analysis was undertaken by Wanaka Stakeholders Group in relation to proposals to spend $400 million at Wanaka Airport, just 20 minutes away by car. The analysis looked at industry norms/averages across numerous other NZ and Australian airports, and the expected ROI. Airports analysed in the analysis included Queenstown, Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and Sydney airports. Note that Central Otago Airport would be owned and run by Christchurch Airport, and CHC was featured in the study.
FLIGHT(PATH)S OF FANCY.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to approximate the likely flight paths into the new airport at Tarras. We might not know the exact orientation of the runway yet, but we can probably get it right within 10 degrees! Based on the flight path profiles of approaching jets, here’s what this is going to mean when the wind is blowing from the Tarras end of the runway.
Flight path update – september 2021.
Here, as predicted by the team at Sustainable Tarras, is the “initial” flight path assessment over Cromwell and into the airport at Tarras. This shows the landing jet height as around 1200m above Cromwell at the south end of town, so more likely closer to 1,000m above ground level on the north side of town.
Christchurch Airport, the company behind the development, suggests that Central Otago International Airport is going to be “up there with the most sustainable airports in the world and is something that Central Otago can be proud of”. On their project website they say: “We understand why a project exploring a new airport may raise eyebrows in the context of a climate challenge – but it does make sense.” They then go on to share Christchurch Airport’s “credentials” as an award-winning environmentally friendly airport and their affirmation of the likes of the Paris Agreement.
But what they don’t say of course is that building an airport is massively carbon intensive – the carbon emissions from construction and materials alone are huge. This is even before the flights that their jet airport will enable – carbon emissions from flights in/out of a new jet airport will be very significant (because that’s how airports make money).
And of course, despite building a new jet airport, the airport company won’t count any jet aircraft emissions in any of their feasibility studies or impact assessments.
Like they do with Christchurch International Airport, they’ll say that these emissions are “out of their control” and that they are “working closely with the airlines”. They’ll also claim that the airline industry is “making great progress” towards a more efficient, less carbon-hungry future. This is simply not true.
Susanne Beckon (a Professor of Sustainable Tourism and Director, Griffith Institute for Tourism, Griffith University) has led an in-depth study which shows that overall, the airline industry has increased it net emissions despite supposed “great progress” with jet aircraft technology.
is the airport company really listening?
“We have decided to respectfully engage before any formal plans are created, so we can factor solutions to concerns into any proposals. […] We are committed to continuing regular communications.”
Source: Airport Company’s website
They have since held private one-on-one meetings with members of the community and have been reluctant to attend or host open public meetings.
A perception of deception
“CIAL knew that their plans would likely be opposed hence their approach through an agent who let it be thought the land was being purchased for horticultural purposes. It has been a deception from day one and removes any credibility and trust in CIAL”
+ David Mortimer, in Stuff, 17/09/20
Absence of communication about “the plan”
A common thread was that CIAL hadn’t been in touch with Tarras residents affected by the proposal, and doubts were raised over whether the company had a fully developed business plan or if Tarras Airport was simply a $40 million gamble.
+ Christchurch Airport PR move falls flat in Tarras, Crux, 24/03/21
A “terrible start” to the project.
“There’s definitely been a lack of transparency and communication, and it’s just really rude.”
+ Cindy Hurley, in Newsroom 30/07/20
Unanimous in their opposition
Speakers at a public meeting in Tarras last night were unanimous in their opposition to the idea of an international airport being built in their valley. From a standing-room-only crowd of about 200, speaker after speaker raised concerns about the effect Christchurch International Airport Ltd’s proposal would have.
+ United against Tarras Airport, ODT, 24.06.21
Arguments against a new airport for central otago
Below is a brief summary of SOME of the reasons why it doesn’t make sense to build a new, international jet airport in Central Otago. These are just the headlines. There is a lot more detail behind each.
It’s not up to CIAL
Christchurch Airport should not be the one to decide whether a new airport will be built in Central Otago, 388kms away by car. They are not even based in this district.
The building and operation of a new jet airport in Central Otago will have multiple and significant negative impacts on the environment. None of this has been considered.
The local community does not have the infrastructure to support this. Nor does the rest of Central Otago.
Communities should come first, well before the private interests of big business, and it should be the communities who decide what the future holds.
Central Otago International Airport is a threat to the unique character of the area – one of the key reasons that people visit and live here. Replace tranquility and calm with busy skies.
There is loads of airport capacity already available at existing airports in Queenstown, Dunedin and Invercargill. We should use those first, and spread the load around.
To build a new jet airport for Central Otago is quite simply climate change madness. We can’t afford the increased carbon emissions from this ill advised project.
One of the key objections to a new jet airport in Central Otago is “overtourism” which is of serious concern, especially in Central Otago. This new airport will only make things worse.
The wrong time
Now, in the midst of a global pandemic and climate change, with so much uncertainty, is not the time to be building new airports.
These are not all of the arguments – just some of them. And they are certainly not the arguments in detail. But you can see that this is ill-advised and badly thought through.
What were they thinking?!
Christchurch Airport definitely weren’t thinking about climate change, the people of Central Otago or the immediate environment. They certainly weren’t thinking about wildlife or biodiversity. Take for example the Bendigo Wetland (pictured) at the head of Lake Dunstan, just to the south of the proposed airport. Home to rare and threatened birds, jets will likely fly right over the top of this area as low as 200 meters above ground level.
What’s the alternative to a new airport in central otago?
Pre-covid, we had many airports with plenty of capacity left. But in any case, with the combination of Covid and also the increase in concerns around climate change, both our government and our people have said that we have to rethink tourism, and take climate change very seriously indeed. Consensus on tourism seems to be: less volume, more quality. So when the tourists come back, we don’t need MORE airports. And certainly building a big new international airport in Central Otago right now would seem to most reasonable people to be the wrong starting point.
How are the locals feeling about this?
“It will take the heart and soul out of the Tarras village and school and turn it into just another truck stop on the way to Wānaka or Queenstown,” says Goddard. “Christchurch Airport calls it the gateway to the south. I think they want to make Tarras the doormat of the south.”
+ Chris Goddard quoted in “Tarras International Airport: The madness and genius of building it in the tiny Central Otago Town.” Stuff, 26 December 2020
“CIAL knew that their plans would likely be opposed hence their approach through an agent who let it be thought the land was being purchased for horticultural purposes. It has been a deception from day one and removes any credibility and trust in CIAL” David Mortimer said.
+ David Mortimer, quoted in “The mysterious Central Otago airport no one seems to want.” Newsroom, September 17 2020.
How does this affect Me?
Well, it depends where you live and what matters to you, but what’s clear is that this is not a “small” decision with minor impacts on only a few people. Yes, this will impact the people of the tiny community of Tarras. But this is about so much more than that. This is massive.
It’s not easy to summarise all of the issues in a few sentences for each town or area of New Zealand, but we’ve made a start with some high level thoughts in the slides below. Take a look as a starting point …
What can you do to help?
We don’t have to let this happen to us. Central Otago does not need yet another airport. Tarras does not need this on their back doorstep. Cromwell, Wanaka and Queenstown don’t need the massive pressure that this airport would bring. New Zealand does not need the carbon emissions.
Take a moment to add your name to a growing list of very concerned New Zealanders. Sign up for free below, and keep in touch.