Hood Aerodrome manager David Hayes stands by the airport’s runway. PHOTO/FILE

Thriving region needs airport

STEVE RENDLE
steve.rendle@age.co.nz

Government funding will be targeted to pay for an upgrade of the Hood Aerodrome runway – a precursor to a return of a regular passenger service to Wairarapa.

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones urged mayors to apply for funding from the Provincial Growth Fund for airport work, saying on Wednesday they would be well-received even if it meant flying in the face of official advice.

A return of passenger services to Masterton has been mooted for some time, and Mayor Lyn Patterson welcomed Jones’ attitude.

“It’s fantastic the minister has a commitment to regional airports and shares our thinking that air transport is just as important for the regions as rail or roads,” she said.

“We are committed to developing Hood Aerodrome in order to support regional economic development and unlocking growth potential for the region. As outlined in the Wairarapa Economic Development Strategy, this includes developing a business case for infrastructure upgrades.

“We will absolutely be looking to apply for funding for these upgrades through the PGF – this will be led by the strategy’s governance group.”

Jones described advice from Ministry of Transport officials on funding for provincial airports as “dry, crusty, Sahara-like” – but indicated applications to the PGF would be well-received.

“We’ve got a dedicated fund for waste, a dedicated fund for Maori land and a dedicated fund for energy,” he told Radio New Zealand.

“It was my ambition to have a dedicated fund for our regional airports.”

The report from the ministry – provided to Transport Minister Phil Twyford and his associate minister, Jones – is yet to be publicly released.

Jones said each airport would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m in the politics of reciprocity. If we’re going to bail out Auckland with the America’s Cup, then we’re going to show the love and I’m going to continue to do it as the economic chiropractor of regional New Zealand.”

He said he would respect Twyford’s authority – “However, I’m the steward, if not the father, of the PGF and when deserving cases wean their way through our systems I’ll certainly advocate for them.’’

In a paper from 2017, the New Zealand Airports Association [NZAA], of which Hood Aerodrome is one of 36 members, highlighted a dozen airports as non-commercial.

Along with Masterton’s Hood, those at risk were named as Kaitaia, Kerikeri, Whangarei, Whakatane, Taupo, Whanganui, Westport, Hokitika, Timaru, and the Chatham Islands.

NZAA chief executive Kevin Ward said on Wednesday that inclusion in the list was definitely not a sign the association believed the airports had no future.

“We would definitely agree with Shane Jones that if you want to have a thriving region, you need to have an active airport,” he said.

“We still believe Masterton is one of a group of airports that need government support.”

Ward said a decision on restarting commercial passenger flights was a “local” call.

Air Chathams, which already provides services to Hokitika, Whakatane and Whanganui, has been suggested as an airline Masterton District Council is working with on a possible service proposal.

Last month, the airline’s general manager Duane Emeny confirmed it had been in talks to operate out of Masterton, with a registration of interest lodged last year in response to a call from the council. Depending on the type of aircraft operated, work on the runway could be required – potentially the focus of an application to the PGF.

The council would say only that it was in early talks with a potential provider.

Ward said if an airline such as Air Chathams was involved “we believe Masterton to be equally able to support an air service”.

– with rnz.co.nz