Kāpiti Coast Airport closure: Mayor raises civil defence concerns with PM

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Kāpiti Coast mayor K Gurunathan has written to the Prime Minister asking the government to clarify how critical the local airport is in the event of a major earthquake.

Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan

Kāpiti Coast Mayor, K Gurunathan. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The airport at Paraparaumu is privately owned, but Airways New Zealand ceased providing airfield flight information services to the airport earlier this year and Gurunathan said they were looking to close it down.

He said it raised questions about what would happen in a civil emergency.

The airport plays a part in the region’s National Initial Response Plan put together for Civil Defence, using a “worst case scenario”.

In such a situation, the capital is expected to be isolated by road due to a slip on State Highway 1; rail lines will be inoperable; and CentrePort will only “be able to provide a limited level of service”.

Wellington Airport would be inoperable for the first two days, but would be able to receive helicopters.

The plan suggested there could be damage to Kāpiti Coast Airport, but it would still be able to receive helicopters, and may re-open for some fixed wing aircraft.

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The airport has a designated role in such a scenario: its most critical role is in its role as an initial transportation link, moving people in and out of affected areas by helicopter.

Kāpiti Coast Airport is expected to become the main hub for helicopter operations within the Wellington region,” the report said. “This will be dependent on road access to Kāpiti Coast Airport to provide commercial logistics support, especially fuel supply.”

It is also the closest airport to Wellington geographically out of the five which are potential National Assembly Areas. The other four are Whenuapai Airbase, Auckland Airport, Ōhakea Airbase and Palmerston North Airport.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Gurunathan said the airport’s importance had been previously underplayed by former Labour ministers.

“I had earlier on 8 September written to five of your Ministers and am concerned to note potential issues in their responses that could undermine a speedy response in the event of a major emergency,” he wrote.

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He said a reply from the Transport Minister on 1 October indicated that officials in the National Emergency Management Agency had advised that while the Paraparaumu Airport would be a useful asset to have in a Wellington earthquake it was not “essential for a response”.

Meanwhile, a response from the Civil Defence Minister on the same day said that the region’s Initial Response Plan “did not rely on Paraparaumu Airport being available because “it may too be affected” by a Wellington fault earthquake and was within a tsunami inundation zone.”

Gurunathan said a crucial point was what if the airport was not affected, and could be used to provide services to the region – a point raised by the Defence Minister.

He wrote on 5 October: “The airfield could potentially be used by NZDF fixed-wing aircraft if Wellington Airport was unusable.

“In that case, transporting personnel and/or supplies into or out of Kāpiti would save approximately one hour by road from Ōhakea.'”

In his letter, he urged the Prime Minister to re-assess and provide clarity on the importance of the airfield.

“It is about the safety and resilience of those in the Wellington City and region and the fact that it’s the seat of the government and its enabling administrative systems.

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“As the mayor of the Kāpiti District my office and my council can only raise the potential importance of this airport in the event of a major Wellington earthquake.

“The responsibility of ultimately recognising that role, or clearly discounting that role, rests with you and your government and not with my council nor the private airport owners.”

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