9 Oct 2019

New Zealand prepared to finance Tokelau airstrip

8:34 am on 9 October 2019

New Zealand is prepared to help finance an airstrip in Tokelau.

It comes as Tokelau's leaders consider commercial flights for the territory, which is only reachable by boat.

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Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

For decades, Tokelau has sought air services to escape a stomach-churning multi-day ferry ride from Samoa.

Plans may be inching closer to completion, with New Zealand officials recommending an airstrip to facilitate flights.

An automatic weather station would also be built.

Documents show New Zealand would consider co-financing the airstrip with Tokelau and has provided assistance with scoping a site.

The documents say there's likely to be a high demand for flights from Tokelauans.

"Members of the New Zealand-Tokelauan community have repeatedly signalled an interest," said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) briefing which was obtained under the Official Information Act.

During her first visit to the territory in August, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she would "look very favourably" on supporting Tokelau with establishing an airstrip. But it was ultimately a matter for Tokelau, she added.

In June, Tokelau's Ulu, Kelihiano Kalolo told a meeting of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation the territory's council's were considering a site for the runway's construction.

According to the documents, flights would only operate from Samoa and New Zealand aviation laws would apply.

"New Zealand would also have to make a call on how it could assist Tokelau to develop and amend relevant regulations, and border control practices including security and bio-security practices," said a February MFAT briefing note.

In late 2016, Tokelau's government spent millions of dollars on two helicopters as part of an interim air services plan to establish commercial flights. The purchases angered New Zealand and some of Tokelau's leaders, prompting the helicopters' sale and the firing of two public servants held responsible.

Tokelau's High Court in July backed the dismissal but found the government unlawfully withheld pay from them, in the first-ever decision from the territory's highest court.

Tokelau Faipule for Atafu, Kelihiano Kalolo

Tokelau Faipule for Atafu, Kelihiano Kalolo Photo: RNZ PACIFIC / MACKENZIE SMITH