CHC airport CEO refuses to answer questions about Tarras

Christchurch Airport CEO, Malcolm Johns, has flatly refused to answer a set of reasonable questions put to him about Tarras by Stop Central Otago Airport. Johns, paid an annual salary of $896,000 to preside over the airport company owned 75% by Christchurch City Council, and 25% the Government, has instead referred the group back to the few pages of information found on the Tarras airport project website.

The questions, originally sent to Johns on 17th November 2021, have been raised on behalf of over 1,125 members of the group. They include questions about transparency, consultation, the environment, infrastructure.

You can read these questions below, as well as links to our correspondence with the airport company.

Malcolm Johns, CEO of Christchurch Airport is focussed on building airport capacity in Tarras, nearly 400km by road from his office at Christchurch Airport. But he won’t answer any questions about his plans.

46 questions for the CEO of Christchurch Airport about CIAL’s plans for a jet airport at Tarras.

Lack of consultation/engagement and open dialogue with stakeholders and the community

  1. When was the government as 25% shareholder in Christchurch Airport, first informed about plans for a new jet airport at Tarras?
  2. When was Christchurch City Council, as 75% shareholder in Christchurch Airport, first informed about plans for a new jet airport at Tarras?
  3. When was an initial business case for the new airport put to your two shareholders?
  4. When and in which communities (please identify them) will you be holding public sessions, available to anybody in the community to attend, where questions can be asked spontaneously and will be answered honestly by CIAL?
  5. Why have you not held such sessions in communities like Queenstown, Wanaka, Cromwell, Hawea, Alexandra and Omarama before taking steps to make submissions to the ORC about easing restrictions on activities which will impact the environment or the community?
  6. Will you agree to such sessions being facilitated by a professional MC, chosen by the community, for each community you visit?
  7. Will you agree to all such sessions being filmed by us (unedited), to share with members who cannot attend but wish to stay informed? Identities of audience members can be kept from the filming if they wish.
  8. Can you please clearly define what you mean when you talk about “affected communities” on your website? Which specific communities?
  9. Are you prepared to have CEO Malcolm Johns do a full, unedited video interview with a professional interviewer nominated by SCOA, to take place before the end of the year, and to share with members of Stop Central Otago Airport and the wider community, to start answering some questions? Our conditions would be: 1) No questions supplied in advance; 2) No editing of the interview footage; 3) No PR handlers in the room and 4) Professional, editorial news style interview. We anticipate that this would take no longer than an hour.
  10. Social licence means consultation with a fully informed public. When is consultation going to take place, with all the required information to hand, in a format that the public can easily consume, with plenty of time for the public to respond with questions or concerns, or even seek more information from CIAL?
  11. You claim in your communications that the community wants and needs this airport. Where is the clear social proof of this? What data do you have on this?
  12. On your website you state that “the [Tarras Airport] project includes a strong platform of community, iwi and stakeholder engagement which will continue if the airport becomes operational.” We are now 16 months in. Please share this platform/plan with us so that we understand how you have been and will engage with all of these groups, and the planning you have put into this. To be clear, we’re asking for the detailed engagement plan here.
  13. Who specifically do you mean by “stakeholders” on your website?

Lack of clarity around meetings with key stakeholders

  1. How many meetings (and on which dates) have Christchurch Airport employees and/or consultants/contractors had with representatives of Ngai Tahu, where Tarras Airport has been discussed?
  2. How many meetings (and on which dates) have Christchurch Airport employees and/or consultants/contractors had with representatives of ORC, where Tarras Airport has been discussed?
  3. How many meetings (and on which dates) have Christchurch Airport employees and/or consultants/contractors had with representatives of CODC, where Tarras Airport has been discussed?
  4. How many meetings (and on which dates) have Christchurch Airport employees and/or consultants/contractors had with representatives of CCC, where Tarras Airport has been discussed?

The problem of climate change and environmental impacts

  1. Against the background of huge climate change issues, challenging carbon reduction targets, and high levels of concern in the community, how can you justify building a new jet airport at Tarras?
  2. Have you discussed this challenge with both of your shareholders, who have both declared a climate emergency?
  3. Will you agree to an independent carbon emissions footprint assessment by recognised UN emissions experts that the community is comfortable with, measuring likely embedded carbon emissions (from the airport build) as well as projected operational emissions over its lifetime, projected aviation emissions and the indirect emissions a busy airport will create for Central Otago based on realistic/commercial flight volume scenarios?
  4. Will you agree to an independent aviation emissions assessment (not just carbon emissions) by an independent aviation emissions expert in a similar fashion as the question above?
  5. When will you have truly independent consultants undertake a full environmental impact assessment of the proposed new jet airport, for the community to consider?
  6. What initial specific assessments have been made to assess the potential for impact on protected, endangered and otherwise special wildlife particularly birds at the Bendigo Wetlands underneath the proposed flight path and in very close proximity to the airport? 
  7. Like many other airports in New Zealand, you claim that Christchurch Airport is environmentally friendly. When will you actually factor in the impacts of flights you are enabling in and out of your airports to provide a true representation of the impact your business has on our environment?

The likely negative impact on Central Otago

  1. When will you have truly independent consultants conduct an infrastructure impact assessment of the direct and indirect impacts of the proposed airport on the Central Otago region, including but not limited to impacts on roading infrastructure, housing demand, electricity transmission requirements, energy consumption, water usage, movement of people, transportation of large volumes of avgas over large distances, etc?
  2. How many road miles are fuel trucks going to have to make from fuel ports (presumably Port Chalmers or Bluff) to fuel the jets you project will fly in and out of the airport? Have you assessed the carbon, infrastructure and environmental costs of this?
  3. What are the restrictions you are likely to place on residents and businesses within a certain radius of Tarras Airport, based upon the restrictions in place at CHC?
  4. If you cannot answer the question above, please confirm the list of restrictions which are imposed upon people living and businesses based near CHC airport currently.

The lack of a clear “business case” for a new airport

  1. What are the projected volumes of passengers which you anticipate will move through the airport over the coming decades? Please be very specific. And please provide clarification as to where these projections come from. 
  2. How do these projections justify the building of a new airport (as opposed to use of existing airports)? 
  3. What is the capital investment you are planning for the new airport, and over what time period will investors start to see industry standard ROI on their airport investment?
  4. What plans are there for detailed and extensive consultation with the people of Christchurch including presenting objective reports and information to help Christchurch ratepayers understand what this infrastructure project would mean for them, especially in terms of financials and risk? 
  5. What analysis has been undertaken of the investment requirements and debt loadings? When will this be shared?
  6. What is Christchurch Airport’s assessment of how much freight would move through the airport in the coming years and how does this compare with passenger numbers? Specifically, what categories of freight are in the breakdown and where do these numbers come from? Is seasonality reflected clearly in this?
  7. Aside from the land purchases, what is the total cost to date of consultancy, legal fees and staff time and resources in planning for this airport and where is that reported back to affected communities (mainly ratepayers)? 

Lack of clarity about making the right infrastructure decisions for New Zealand

  1. What conversations has Christchurch Airport had with the other airports in the lower South Island about existing infrastructure and capacity? 
  2. The CEO of Christchurch Airport has been quoted as saying that the cost to build the airport is likely to be upwards of $650 million. Can you please give a rough breakdown of how that will be spent? For example, runway, terminal control tower, etc. 
  3. You state on your website that “The reality is current airport infrastructure won’t meet our future connectivity needs.” Please:
    1. Identify precisely which current airports are referred to by the word “infrastructure”, AND
    2. Identify how you have identified and quantified “our future connectivity needs”.
    3. Confirm who is referred to by “our” in this sentence, AND
    4. Based on all of the above, what precisely is your assessment of “our future connectivity needs”?

Lack of detail around the “benefit of the community” argument

  1. Christchurch Airport has stated many times that the proposed airport at Tarras is needed for the future economic wellbeing of the community. What is the objective, evidence basis for this very significant claim? 
  2. Please identify precisely which “community “ is being referred to here.
  3. Which discussions with the community have taken place, and how has it been documented/proven that this is clearly something the community wants?

The real risk of airport greenwashing

  1. With claims being made by Christchurch Airport that this airport will pave the way for “a low carbon” (aviation) future, and given clearly agreed issues with “new technologies” not actually making a net difference yet, what specific plans does Christchurch Airport have to achieve this outside of enabling a few short distance electric flights in small capacity aircraft?
  2. How does Christchurch Airport justify its claims of Tarras Airport becoming “an airport which would be up there with the most sustainable in the world”?
  3. As above, but how does this equate with the carbon emissions it will create from the build and operation of the airport, along with from flights to/from the airport, and the huge carbon emissions footprint it would enable indirectly?
  4. On your website you say: “The new generation of sustainable aviation technology is likely to require changes to much of New Zealand’s existing airport infrastructure.” Which technologies are you specifically referring to, and which specific changes in infrastructure will be required?

Difficulties with Christchurch Airport’s promises of openness and transparency.

  1. Christchurch Airport has stated that it will be open and transparent at all stages. Why then, is Christchurch Airport: 
    1. making applications to change planning frameworks with Otago Regional Council, but not clearly informing affected communities that this is in progress, so that they can respond through normal democratic processes?
    2. not having open (and transparent) meetings with affected communities?
    3. but in the meantime having one-on-one meetings with selected stakeholders and individuals, behind closed doors?

The chain of letters

  • 17 November 2021 – we write to Malcolm Johns with our 46 questions – here.
  • 1 December 2021 – Malcolm Johns writes back, refusing to answer our questions – here
  • 3 December 2021 – we reply, pushing back – here
  • 7 December 2021 – project manager Michael Singleton writes back, refusing to answer questions – here

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