17 Aug 2016

Proposed airport upgrade for Chatham Islands

8:09 am on 17 August 2016

A $55 million port redevelopment is underway in the Chatham Islands, with hopes an upgrade to the local airport could be next.

An Air Chathams Saab arrives in Whanganui this morning.

Air Chathams wants to be able to start servicing a growing passenger market. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The islands are New Zealand's most eastern point and lie about 700km southeast of the mainland.

Council chief executive Owen Pickles said the fully government funded upgrade to Waitangi port was expected to be finished late next year.

"What's involved is replacing the traditional wharf structure with a reclamation protected by a substantial breakwater which will then enable the Waitangi port to become an all-weather port.

"One of the weaknesses of the old port has been that you'd lose 70 to 80 days each year because of tide and weather conditions," Mr Pickles said.

He said the Islands' next transport challenge was to improve the airport.

Chatham islands

Tide and weather conditions are said to have reduced the number of days that the Chathams' port could be used. Photo: Marlon Thomas

Air Chathams has said it will start a Boeing 737 service if residents and the government will fund an upgrade to the airport's runway.

Air Chathams general manager Duane Emery Emery said the government had been given a draft feasibility study that put the cost of improving the runway at about $35 million.

He said the Chathams' 600 residents were regular travellers, and there were growing visitor and freight markets.

The Chatham Islands Enterprise Trust is helping to drive both the port and the runway projects.

Chief executive Rob Pellikaan said confidence in the Chathams' future had been boosted by the recent upgrade of Moana Pacific Fisheries processing plant.

The iwi-owned seafood exporter spent several million dollars upgrading the plant it recently re-opened at Waitangi Wharf.

Mr Pellikaan said the port development was about long-term gain.

"The hope is that we'll get more cruise liners in, and potentially more shipping companies - who knows. There's a lot of wishful thinking there but at least we'll have the capacity to deal with it."

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