29 Jan 2015

Hovercraft at ready for rescues

5:54 pm on 29 January 2015

Auckland Airport has shown off its multi-million dollar upgrade to its marine rescue fleet, with a $3 million hovercraft at the centre.

The fleet is there to deploy survival equipment and help save lives should a plane crash in the Manukau Harbour, where the airport is situated.

Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said the thick mud around the airport meant hovercrafts were a necessity.

"While many airports are based around the ocean, very few have the marine environment quite like the Manukau Habour.

"We've got to account for serious tidal flows, mud flats and wind - and a bunch of different conditions," he said.

The airport looked to Singapore's Changi Airport, which shared some of those conditions.

A review started in 2012 found Auckland Airport's then rescue fleet did meet international standards, but more capability would be needed to cope with growth.

"Our 30-year vision suggests passenger numbers could go from 15 million a year to 40 million by 2040, and the number of aircraft movements could double.

"It's incredibly important we prepare for that growth, and part of that preparation is ensuring we have a state of the art emergency service," Mr Littlewood said.

There are three new additions to the fleet:

  • a Griffon 2000TD hovercraft
  • a 12 metre catamaran command and firefighting boat
  • an 11 metre monohull rescue boat

Mr Littlewood said the two boats were New Zealand made, and the airport's other hovercraft purchased in 1991 will remain in service.

Increased capability

Deputy rescue crew chief Tony Beattie said having two hovercrafts meant the airport could better respond to an incident involving a massive Airbus A380 plane.

Each hovercraft had a number of rescue pods which could be deployed, and each pod could fit 30 people.

"Here at the airport when the tide is fully out, the whole airport is covered by sand banks and mud - and the hovercraft are the only vessels that can get to the crash site," Mr Beattie said.

Mr Littlewood said the new marine rescue fleet represented world-leading safety technology.

"While our rescue team hopes to never use these vehicles in an aviation emergency, it's incredibly important we have them," he said.