Aucklanders ‘not getting straight answers’ on airport’s expansion plans

28 May. Jonathan Killick, Reporter for STUFF

Francesca De Jong says North Shore Aero Club’s application for airport authority status could lead to a dramatic change in the Dairy Flat landscape.

Auckland residents want to know why a recreational flying club has applied for airport authority status if it doesn’t plan to expand – and say they haven’t been getting a straight answer.

A public meeting was held this month to discuss the Dairy Flat-based North Shore Aero Club’s application for airport authority status.

Ricky Wilson – Photos

Airport status would give the club more powers, including a pathway to compulsorily acquire neighbour’s properties if it decided to expand and the ability to set its own bylaws.

The North Shore Aero Club airfield is used for a flight school and the odd charter flight.

Chief executive John Punshon said while “emotions had run high” at the meeting, the aero club had “zero intent” to acquire the neighbouring properties.

He said the airfield already had commercial flights to Great Barrier Island, but there were no plans “to go much further than that in the immediate future”.

In order for larger propeller planes used for interregional travel to land at the airfield, the runway would have to be doubled in size, he said.

When asked why, then, the club wanted airport authority status, Punshon said he “didn’t know”.

“It would be foolish to speculate how it would be used, but I can see there is potential there.

“We don’t know how or when we might use those powers. I suggest that concerned residents go and read the legislation.”

Rodney ward councillor Greg Sayers says residents are suspicious in the absence of clear answers on how the airfield will use new powers if they are granted.

Councillor Greg Sayers said he had received clear feedback from the community that it supported the club continuing as a recreational flight school, but was opposed to it expanding to accommodate larger planes.

“Locals don’t seem to be getting straight answers, and so they are instinctively suspicious,” he said.

Sayers suggested Parakai or Whenuapai might be a better location for a secondary regional domestic airport for Auckland.

“The whole Dairy Flat area is zoned for housing growth. A full-scale airport is not appropriate there.”

Transport Minister Michael Wood said he acknowledged the “strong feelings” on both sides and would be making his recommendation to Cabinet on whether to approve the application “in coming months”.

The airfield will increasingly be surrounded by residential housing, with the area being zoned for growth.

Dairy Flat School principal Katie Hills was among the community members who opposed the application at a public meeting attended by Wood.

Hills said the school could already hear the existing aircraft and an increase in flights or larger planes could make it difficult for teachers to be heard by students.

“We are happy with the way the aero club is now, but we don’t see why it would be necessary to have bigger planes.”

In 2019, Air New Zealand publicly called for a second regional airport for domestic routes, and suggested Whenuapai as an ideal location.

However, a spokesperson for the airline said it was now just focusing on getting the existing network back up and running, with borders having reopened to international tourists.