20 Oct 2016

Pilots' appeal for Wellington 240m runway safety zone begins

1:11 pm on 20 October 2016

The Court of Appeal has begun hearing a challenge by the Airline Pilots Association over safety areas on the proposed runway extension at Wellington Airport.

Wellington airport runway.

Wellington airport runway. Photo: WIAL

The airport company wants to extend its runway southwards into Cook Strait by 350m so bigger planes can land, allowing long-haul flights from Asia and elsewhere.

The pilots want a safety area of 240m in case of aircraft overruns, not the 90m proposed by the company.

The association lost its legal fight with the airport in the High Court in July and has now taken its case to the Court of Appeal.

But a lawyer for the association, Hugh Rennie QC, told the Court of Appeal this morning that civil aviation rules required the safety areas to be 240m long wherever practical - and the test of practicality is its ability to be constructed, not the cost of building it.

The airport has resisted the association's position on the grounds of cost, which current estimates put at more than $1 million per metre of runway.

Before Justice Rhys Harrison, Mr Rennie told the court that civil aviation rules did not allow a company to disregard those rules on cost grounds.

In submissions on behalf of the Civil Aviation Authority, Frances Cooke QC referred to a series of reports done on the airport extension, and told the judges that practicability of a project had to include a reference to its cost.

He said a project had to be feasible, practical and pragmatic.

Mr Cooke added the costs of the scheme had to be measured against what it was hoped to be achieved, and the current rate of aircraft overruns or undershoots was 8.3 per 10 million aircraft movements.

That meant that in Wellington there would be one every 209 to 243 years.

Mr Cooke also gave more details of the costs of the extension: between $933,000 and $1,167,000 per metre of runway.

Under that scenario, the safety area could add a quarter of a billion dollars to the cost.

But the airline pilots have in the past contested this, arguing for additional and cheaper solutions such as systems that arrest the movement of an aircraft after it overshoots.

Mr Rennie said costs might be a factor in the impossibility of undertaking a project, but not in its practicality.

Earlier, Mr Rennie said documents from the airport's main shareholder showed that building a safety area into the original length of the planned runway extension would reduce the amount of the runway that could be used from 89 percent of its total length to between 75 and 79 percent.

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