Hamilton International Airport has gained resource consents to extend its runway by around 1000 metres to accommodate larger aircraft and enable international flights beyond Australia.
Commissioners appointed by the Waikato, Hamilton and Waipa councils to hear the matter, which attracted 62 submissions, released their 101-page decision today.
Key concerns raised by submitters, including Tamahere residents, were over noise, traffic, ecological affects and whether an extension of the airport was economically justified.
The runway extension will affect height limitations and approach paths surrounding the airport, and bring changes to noise boundaries, and noise and subdivision rules.
Waikato Regional Airport Ltd (WRAL) is unlikely to extend the runway immediately but the consents allow it a 15-year time frame to do so. Lengthening the runway to almost 3000m would make it the third largest commercial runway in the country (behind Auckland and Christchurch) able to support direct flights beyond Australia, including to Asia and the US.
This would greatly increase the number of potential carriers and enable wide-bodied aircraft to fly directly to the likes of Singapore, India, China and the west coast of the US.
The commissioners have required WRAL to carry out full-time, continuous, in-field noise monitoring in accordance with the exiting Noise Management Plan, which is now part of the Waipa District Plan. But they found that there was no evidence that the main runway extension would generate additional general aviation traffic. The general traffic was largely related to the CTC Aviation flight training school and appeared to be of more community concern than commercial traffic, they said.
“We accept that any increase in general aviation traffic will be the result of change that is unrelated to the current WRAL proposal.”
As well, the establishment of the Airport Community Liaison Group and the Noise Management Plan, now embedded in the NZ Aeronautical Information Publication (NZAIP) with which all pilots have to comply, had been a means of dealing with community concern over the issue, the commissioners said. The NZAIP is enforced by the Civil Aviation Authority.
But they also made informal recommendations encouraging an apparently reluctant WRAL to be “positive and proactive with the Airport Community Liaison Group”.
And they noted that aircraft were currently operating well within airport noise limits and encouraged residents to take a realistic attitude to the airport and its noise controls.
Tamahere councillor Wally Hayes said the commissioners had gone a long way toward striking a balance between protecting the airport’s interests and those of local residents.
“The extra statutory control of embedding a noise management plan into the Waipa District Plan, keeping in mind the significant residential growth that is projected to happen not only in Tamahere but also the Peacockes road area, needed to happen for the future harmony of the area.
“At the very least, the extra teeth that this gives the Noise Management Plan should give residents the confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously,” he said.
The commissioners found that a “substantial” Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the NZ Transport Agency, WRAL and the joint venture owners of the Titanium industrial park had largely addressed impacts on the roading network satisfactorily. However, it took submissions by Meridian Energy to “flush out” the document to enable it to be considered by the commissioners.
The purpose of the MOU is to ensure future airport development does not compromise the adjacent State Highway network, establish preferred access from the airport to the state highways, and also establish a series of staged works and access arrangements if and when the airport land is developed incrementally.
“With the conditions and planning provisions now proposed [along with the MOU] there is adequate mitigation of any adverse effects arising from the generation of additional traffic by any extension of the airport runway,” the commissioners said.
The commissioners said that it was not their job to consider the economic merits of the proposal but they noted that it was prudent to plan and provide for the runway to be extended in order to protect the existing and future role of the airport as an international airport.
“Indeed, from the evidence, we consider it would be remiss of WRAL to not be planning for continued development at the airport.”
The full decision is available here on the Waipa District Council website.