Nelson-Tasman councils support airport’s bid to be next-gen aircraft base

2:10 pm on 25 August 2023
Air New Zealand board chair Dame Theresa Walsh visited Nelson Airport in April and said the airport was asking "absolutely the right question" as it planned for a potential runway extension. Photo: supplied/Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand board chairperson Dame Theresa Walsh visited Nelson Airport in April. Photo: Supplied / Air New Zealand

The Nelson-Tasman region's two councils have thrown their weight behind the Nelson Airport's bid to host Air New Zealand's first commercial next-generation, low-emission aircraft.

In early August, Air New Zealand asked for expressions of interest from the country's airports as part of selecting a route to fly its commercial demonstrator aircraft from 2026.

The flights will start from 2026 and initially be cargo-only services.

Nelson mayor Nick Smith, at Tuesday's meeting of the Joint Shareholders Committee, said the expressions of interest offer the region a "fantastic opportunity".

"Nelson is quite uniquely placed in New Zealand to be part of this exciting change in aircraft technology."

Smith thought several factors gave Nelson Airport an edge, including the region's good climate, frequency of flights - especially the short 120 kilometre trips to Wellington, history of environmental leadership, and strong local aviation industry.

"I think it's one of the most exciting opportunities for Nelson to be at the cutting edge of the next generation of aviation in a way I have not seen in some time."

Nelson City councillor Rachel Sanson added that the country's per capita aviation emissions, currently sitting around 12 percent of total transport emissions, are ahead of much larger nations like Canada.

"Anything that we can do to actually tackle this is important."

Nelson Airport is seeking to be the home of Air New Zealand’s first next-generation, low-emission aircraft. Photo: file. [via LDR single use only}

Nelson Airport is seeking to be the home of Air New Zealand's first next-generation, low-emission aircraft. Photo: SUPPLIED

The Joint Shareholders Committee, which consists of elected members from both Nelson City and Tasman District Councils, unanimously supported Smith's resolution that it endorses the airport's expression of interest.

Nelson Airport chief executive Mark Thompson was "very grateful" to have the support of the two councils.

"No one organisation or industry can create the change needed to shift our nation's environmental performance at the scale required - partnership and collaboration will be absolutely central to success and we're very fortunate to have a strong supportive shareholder backing our bid."

He added that hosting next-generation aircraft is "a perfect fit" with airport's goal of being a "world-class" facility.

"We believe the greatest contribution we can make as an airport is to use our resources to support our airline partners to decarbonise their operations, as this is where genuine change to the environmental profile of our industry can be made," Thompson said.

"Should Nelson be successful in this bid, our airport and region would be a world leader in the transition to a lower-carbon transport future."

To better cater to next-generation aircraft, the Nelson Airport is currently applying for a plan change to the Nelson Resource Management Plan which would allow it to extend its runway in the future.

Though an extension is not needed for Air New Zealand's small commercial demonstrator trial, the airport has been advised that larger, low-emission aircraft may require a longer runway.

Nelson City Council, as a 50 percent shareholder in the Nelson Airport, has appointed a hearing panel of independent commissioners to make a final recommendation on the airport's proposed plan change.

The council will have very limited grounds to reject the commissioners' recommendation.

On that basis, Smith is confident that supporting the airport's expression of interest to Air New Zealand is not a conflict of interest for the council.

"We have a broad role in the community. An important part of being mayor is attracting investment and new opportunities for our region," he said.

"With or without the airport extension application, I would be strongly advocating for us to take up this opportunity."

It is currently undecided whether Air New Zealand's next-generation aircraft will be electric, hybrid, or hydrogen fuel celled, though an announcement on their type is expected by early 2024.

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

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