Christchurch Airport releases runway options

On 24 September 2021, exactly 15 months after news of the new airport was broken by local journalist Peter Newport of Crux, Christchurch Airport finally released some slightly more detailed information. The “Preliminary Aeronautical Assessment”, a carefully produced 41 page brochure-style document, laid out some key “initial” findings. In our view, they’re not good for Central Otago, or indeed New Zealand.

Key “highlights”:

  • Two potential runway alignment options are outlined. Both of them will see jets taking off and landing over Cromwell, Lake Dunstan and the Bendigo Wetland (bird and wildlife sanctuary) just south of the proposed runway.
  • The runway would either run towards the Lindis Pass towards the North, or out towards Hawea. Either way, the runway alignments present significant issues.
  • This is going to be an international airport. Christchurch Airport will build a runway which at an absolute minimum will cater for both domestic and international aircraft (capable of flying to Australia and the Pacific Islands), but they have indicated that they are considering developing a longer, 3km runway capable of international, wide body jets (eg Asia, China, USA). Given that a 3km runway would open up wide body jets, it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t proceed with that option.
  • These runway options look set to have multiple impacts on the environment, local communities and even communities further afield. They will disrupt GA (General Aviation – smaller aircraft), cause restrictions in terms of land use near the airport, and are very worrying in terms of impact on local wildlife, particularly varieties of rare birds which live just 200 meters under the flightpath. That’s before we even start to think about carbon emissions and the roll on impacts which increased numbers of people flying in and out of the area will have.

What is more concerning is the way the document has been produced – in our view, to “soften” the perceived impact of the airport, and to smooth the way for the next steps.

  • It’s a very cleverly designed document. But in our view, it is designed to obscure quite a bit of detail.
  • There are some who suspect that the alternate runway proposed towards Hawea is just a red herring. If you were being cynical, you might say that this option has been included in the document so that people in the Upper Clutha can be concerned about it, and then when Christchurch Airport announce that they’ve decided on the other (Lindis) runway alignment, people can be “relieved”. In reality, any runway alignment at Tarras will have significant consequences for people of the Upper Clutha, Cromwell, and more widely Central Otago.
  • The very thin (unrealistic) flight path lines magically avoid flying right over Cromwell. In reality we all know that approach glide paths are wider than shown in the Christchurch Airport document, and jets will end up flying over or alongside existing settlements, including (and notably) Cromwell. Even if they were to skirt around the outside of built up areas, the impacts will be very similar.
  • Unlike every other unit of measure in the document (meters or kms are used throughout), the flight path altitudes are provided in feet above ground level (usual for aviation, but not something most people deal with every day), which makes the flight paths look much higher than they are. Approaching (landing) aircraft will be only 1,200 or so meters above Cromwell, and significantly lower above other built up areas, like Pisa Moorings.
  • It is very concerning that jets will fly only around 200 meters above Bendigo Reach – home to numerous protected birds.
  • The “noise profiles” have only been worked out for take-offs (where the jets get higher, faster), but landings (often very noisy, and much lower altitude) are conspicuously absent from this document.
  • There is plenty of “greenwashing”* going on. The document talks of the new airport “maximising the social and economic wellbeing of the region” and enabling “safe and low-carbon air connectivity for future generations,” as if this is environmentally friendly and positive for the community and provides us with safety and security. This is disingenuous, as the document doesn’t address (or even mention) the likely volumes of flights (likely to be in the many of dozens per day) required to give Christchurch Airport acceptable industry-standard ROI, or the environmental impacts (which are likely to be many and significant in nature), not least of which are the embedded carbon (in building the airport), the operational carbon emissions, the flights the airport will “enable” to fly to, from and around New Zealand (and the resulting emissions), and the huge amount of indirect carbon emissions any new airport of this type and scale will cause as people move through the airport and out into Central Otago.
  • As ever, the document shows a timeline including significant “ongoing consultation” whereas in fact, many affected communities and stakeholders are feeling very much in the dark, and there is no real two way “conversation” going on.

If you’ve not read the document, click the image below to download it.

* Greenwashing is a marketing and communications ploy companies use to make their products sound more environmentally friendly than they are. Their claims are often exaggerated, misleading and not backed up by evidence, or miss out key information about the environmental impacts of their activities.