Mayor Wayne Brown won’t rule out selling council’s $1.91b Auckland airport stake

1:19 pm on 9 November 2022
Auckland International Airport is seen with the existing southern runway, terminals and infrastructure which will be home to a new runway, 04 October 2007. Construction is about to begin on a new runway to be located north of the existing runway, the first stage to be completed by 2010/11. The improvements are hoped to be an important part for future development and make a significant contribution to tourism and freight growth.   AFP Photo/Dean TREML (Photo by DEAN TREML / AFP)

If Auckland Council is to consider selling its stake in the airport it would go in the mayor's draft budget statement, a spokesperson says. Photo: DEAN TREML

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown's office is not ruling out selling the supercity's $1.91 billion stake in Auckland International Airport Limited (AIAL) to plug a $270 million hole in his first budget.

And while a spokesperson said it was not currently up for consideration, it remained an option to address the council's financial shortfall, which Local Democracy Reporting understands has been driven by falling revenue due to Covid-19 and rising inflation and interest rates.

"If this became an option, it would be in the mayor's draft budget for discussion by the public and the governing body," the spokesperson said.

"Personally, the mayor does not regard an 18 percent share in a company that isn't paying dividends to be a strategic asset but others, including councillors, may want to make the case that it is."

AIAL suspended dividend payments during the pandemic as its profits took a hit, along with the entire aviation sector.

But in August the company said international travel had made a "spirited comeback" after the country's borders reopened and it expected its underlying business to return to profit this year after two years of losses.

The mayor's spokesperson said the sale of any council shares or assets would be to pay off debt to reduce debt servicing costs and avoid rate rises or cuts to essential services.

Brown's office was asked if the mayor thought he had the numbers to sell a strategic asset, but he did not respond, other than to say he did not think it qualified as a strategic asset.

But Auckland Manukau ward councillor Alf Filipaina said he was opposed to selling the council's stake in the airport and said it was important it held a stake in the company.

"We've kept the shares because of the benefits the airport brings to Manukau and Auckland," he said.

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown and councillor Alf Filipaina

Wayne Brown, right, and Alf Filipaina have opposing views on Auckland Council retaining a stake in Auckland International Airport. Photo: Getty Images / Jay Farnsworth

Filipaina said the issue would have to be discussed in more detail when the councillors met for a budget workshop on Thursday.

He said with the country's borders now open again the airport would start to provide an important source of revenue to the council through dividends.

Filipaina said selling the shares now would be short-sighted.

"What's going to happen when the airport starts making a higher profit like it did pre-pandemic? It won't be coming back to the Auckland Council if we sell the shares."

During last year's budget process council finance managers proposed selling the airport shares to help address the council's budget pressures.

In an update on the council's financial position they said hanging onto the council's 18 percent stake was not a "best practice approach to financial investment".

But former Auckland mayor Phil Goff ruled out selling the shares and preferred to stick with a planned 3.5 percent rate rise, while making budget cuts and savings in other areas to maintain capital expenditure.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

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