Airport Location Study

  • Project typeStudy of Ruatangata Site near Kokopu Rd
Photo of aerial view of Whangarei airport runway.

Factors outside our control could end passenger services at the Onerahi Airport in ten years or so. While this is not certain to happen, Council has now agreed to investigate a site at Ruatangata in case it is needed.

Since 2014 we have been searching for a place within the District, that might be able to be used as an airport if the current airport in Onerahi has to close because of aircraft changes or changes to Civil Aviation permits.   

Over the past 7 - 8 years, more than 20 potential sites had been studied. Some land at one Ruatangata site and was purchased when it became available. 

The potential sites had been whittled down and the public was consulted on four options for further investigation. These were three new potential locations for an airport:

  • Ruatangata West (site 6) 
  • Ruatangata (site 9) 
  • One Tree Point West (site 24a)


  • to remain at Onerahi.

Council decision

Council has confirmed that it will further investigate a site at Ruatangata, near Kokopu Road, as its preferred location for a future Whangārei District airport.

Council agreed that there were factors outside its control that meant domestic passenger services at the existing Onerahi Airport could be at risk in future and that the best way to provide certainty for the District was to protect a suitable new site for a future airport, if needed. 

Councillors received and considered a wide range of perspectives from throughout the District, and that crowd-sourced information played a critical role in the decision making process.

"The interesting thing about good public engagement is the wide range of often-opposing views that come in. It all helps us to form a fuller understanding of the context when making important decisions," said Chief Executive Simon Weston.

Since 2014 Council has been searching for a suitable alternative to the Onerahi site.  In the past 7-8 years studies identified more than 20 potential sites.  Some land became available at one Ruatangata site and was purchased by Council.

The list had been whittled down and the public was consulted on four options for further investigation. These were to remain at Onerahi, or to further investigate two sites at Ruatangata and one at One Tree Point. 

At the Council meeting on 24 August 2022, Councillors agreed that Ruatangata (Site 9) was the the best option for further investigation as a replacement airport.

Further technical investigations will be completed over coming years, as Council prepares to designate this site which restrict what the site could be used for while a final decision on the airport is sought.

During these investigations Council will continue to work with Iwi / Hapu, and stakeholders (including Ministry of Transport and Air New Zealand), and the final designation process will include further formal public consultation.  

Airport Location Study consultation (closed July 2022)

Completing a Carbon Assessment and Climate Change Risk Assessment for the project will require a meteorological station to be established to give clear, robust information about the climate conditions at the site.

Council will look at a range of alignment options for the runway to identify the effect each will have, and which would be best.

Studies will cover the environment and cultural matters, sound impacts and ecology effects, resulting a range of Environmental Effect Assessment reports and Assessments of Alternatives.

Estimating the cost and producing an implementation programme for this work will be one of the first jobs.

Staff will report back to Council on progress with further technical investigations, including whether or not any factors crop up that eliminate Ruatangata (Site 9).

The next steps towards confirming the Proposed Site and pursuing a Notice of Requirement (designation) process will be outlined.

Chief Executive Simon Weston said the Airport Location Option Study to date has been based on desk-top analysis of available information and advice from specialists, Mana Whenua and stakeholders and from community engagement.  In the case of Ruatangata (Site 9) physical site inspections also took place.

He said there is no current evidence that advances in aircraft technology will overcome the deficiencies of Onerahi airport and noted that the decision council was making was to protect the location for an alternative airport site so that the community can be confident in long term access to air travel near Whangarei City.

“It is important to note that the decision to move from Onerahi Airport to construct a new airport at an alternative site has not been made and that currently there is no planned date for this.

‘We also note that there is no perfect location for a new airport located close to Whangarei City. Each of the three preferred locations we consulted on has its own positive and negative attributes. However, no fatal flaws have been raised at this stage for the three shortlisted options.”  

He said the funding mechanism for the detailed design and construction of a new airport is yet to be determined. It is expected that funding for the construction of a new airport will require external (government or other) funding.

No final site has been identified for a new airport. 

No decision has been made to close the Whangārei Airport at Onerahi.

No timelines have been set. 

Airport location study consultation 


For several years now Council, along with a project advisory group of representatives of the Regional Council, Government entities, Northland Inc, Air New Zealand and others, along with a Mana Whenua Advisory group of representatives appointed by Te Huinga, have been considering the future for an airport in the District. 

No decisions have been made to close or move the Whangarei Airport in Onerahi, but numerous factors have made it sensible for us to explore future options in recent years.  

In 2014 it became clear that the site might not be suitable for future changes in aircraft types given Civil Aviation Authority requirements for safety areas at either end of the runway. 

The existing airport at Onerahi has the shortest commercial runway in New Zealand, and while it can operate with the current Q300 airplanes, these airplanes will be phased out in future. The current ATR72 aircraft cannot operate from Onerahi due to its short runway.

Civil Aviation Authority requirements may also change, causing problems for the Onerahi airport which has a short runway, no runway safety areas and a hill to the north of the airport.

Council investigated reclaiming land to extend the runways or shifting the airport across the harbour to the Port Nikau area. Many factors ruled out these options including hills jutting into flight paths, plus resource management consenting issues for land reclamation. 

In 2017, in consultation with the advisory groups, the net was cast wider and a “desktop analysis” was undertaken of sites that might be flat enough, large enough and have open approach paths. The list was whittled down to 28, and assessments narrowed that list down further to the three that will be consulted upon in April

Link to meeting agenda:

30 March Council Meeting Agenda

Extending the airport

Investigations into extending the airport included a 2014 study of whether Onerahi Airport could be extended or whether Port Nikau (across the harbour from Onerahi) would be a suitable alternative site. Neither met the requirements of a new airport site. 

Onerahi’s runway cannot be lengthened because of environmental impacts of the work and because hills would intersect with the flightpath when the runway is lengthened. The estimated cost of construction work is also a challenge.   

Port Nikau cannot be used because hills jut into the flight path, and land that was available is now being developed for other purposes.

Ruatangata site purchase

In late 2020 consultants had identified 28 potential sites. This list has now been whittled down to three preferred sites.

In 2020, we purchased properties at a Ruatangata site bounded by Three Mile Bush Road, Poroti and Kokopu Block.