Airport Location Study

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

 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 seven to eight years, more than 28 potential sites have been studied.  

Following a public consultation Council has now selected a site at Ruatangata for further investigation.  

It is important to note that no final site has yet been identified for a new airport and no decision has been made to close the Whangārei Airport at Onerahi. 

Ruatangata site selected for in-depth studies

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

Experts have been investigating the potential site for a new District airport at Ruatangata in 2022-2023.

We have carried out many site visits and have completed our initial assessments of the geotechnical, flooding, transport, ecology, noise, visual, archeological and social limitations the preferred Ruatangata site may have.

Cultural values assessment

We are working towards a cultural values assessment with hapū for the site and have installed a weather station and consulted with key external stakeholders including Kiwirail, Waka Kotahi, the ministries for the Environment, Education and Transport.

The Cultural Values Assessment will outline the cultural significance of the area and identify anything that could limit development there, and is required before a final assessment on the site can be undertaken. 

Meteorological Station

A meteorological station has been set up at the potential site at Ruatangata.

The information from the weather station will identify any weather limitations, including fog which was highlighted as a potential issue during the consultation. Once we have this data we will complete Carbon Assessment and Climate Change Risk Assessments.

Once all this information is assessed, we will have a better indication of the most suitable options for the alignment of the runway and staff will report the findings to Council. 

The next steps

Once all this information is assessed, we will have a better indication of the most suitable options for the alignment of the runway and staff will report the findings to Council.

If the site proves to be suitable after these studies, there would still be many steps to work through. Whether the airport is actually required is still not known. We continue to work with Air New Zealand on their aircraft options that will be the main trigger for change.

If a new airport is required there will be many more factors to work though including ownership, governance and funding. The processes to get this far have been complicated and time-consuming, but it is important to spend enough time to get this right.

It is likely that working out the next steps (if the site proves viable) will also be a long-term piece of work.

Working with the community  

During these investigations we will continue to work with landowners, iwi, hapū, and other stakeholders, including Ministry of Transport and Air New Zealand. 

Choosing the runway alignment 

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

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

Range of factors to be studied

Before any decision can be made whether to take planning forward for a site, many investigations need to be completed to assess difference runway alignments. The outcome of these studies could affect the way forward. Some of the topics for the study include:  

Ground suitability: what is the underlying ground like, and would it support a runway and buildings? How much earthworks would be required? 

Flooding: how flood-prone (or flood-proof) is the area? 

Transport links and changes: what roads would need to be built, stopped or rerouted to provide efficient, safe transport links to the potential new location? What is the impact on the wider transport network. 

The natural ecology of the area: what ecosystems exist in the area, how do they work and how would they be affected by or have an affect on an airport? 

Noise: what noise would be caused by an airport, how would it affect people in the area? 

Social impacts: what social impact would a new airport have on the people living in the area? 

Cultural factors: what affect would an airport have on cultural values in the area?  

Other: for example, what will be the impact on the archaeology and landscape, is there  any land contamination and what are the implications for planning requirements?  

Once all of these have been assessed, a design and multi-criteria analysis will take place for the selected alignments.

Funding

The funding mechanism for the detailed design and construction of a new airport is yet to be determined. Initial funding for the designation and consenting is funded in the 2021-2031 Long Term Plan.

Whether the airport is actually required is still not known, further funding is proposed in years 7 onwards for further work. It is expected that funding for the construction of a new airport will require external (government or other) assistance.

Background

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 Whangārei 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 were consulted on in 2022.