Air NZ CEO Chris Luxon raised Defence hackles with his proposal to use the RNZAF base Whenuapai for commercial services. The air force has long resisted this for reasons of security, safety and the absence of land for passenger terminals and parking.
Cynics reckon this is an opening salvo from Luxon who seems headed to Parliament sooner rather than later. Sometimes the airline thinks it is the only business in town.
But there is another side to this argument. For a military base, Whenuapai, built in the 1930’s is relatively small in area: its runways are short and require strengthening to handle larger aircraft.
This is one reason why the RNZAF will base its new Boeing P-8A Poseidons at Ohakea, a move which will free-up air space with only 40 Squadron’s Hercules and the Navy’s Seasprite squadron in residence.
So might the RNZAF vacate for good and find a new location? Up the road there are two airfields at Kaikohe and Kaitaia. The first is limited but the second has possibilities. Built by the Americans during World War II, it currently has two runways, an asphalt runway of 1400 metres and a second gravel strip 1277 metres long.
It has good approaches and plenty of land for development. Could this be the sort of project the Minister for Regional Development, Shane Jones, should get his teeth into – not as a new commercial airport but a replacement for Whenuapai, enabling the old air base to be redeveloped as Auckland’s North Harbour airport?