Airline association raises 'serious concerns' over 'third world' Auckland runway

The runway has had to be temporarily closed twice this year.
The runway has had to be temporarily closed twice this year. Photo credit: Getty Images

An association representing airlines from New Zealand and Australia has raised serious concerns about runway maintenance expenditure at Auckland Airport.

Earlier this year, flights into Auckland were forced to divert to other airports in Aotearoa as emergency maintenance had to be carried out on the runway.

One flight from Singapore with around 300 passengers onboard had to divert to the military base at Ohakea until the situation was resolved. A similar closure happened just a few weeks later.

On February 7, the airport announced it was launching an "immediate formal review" into the two closures, but claimed they were "unrelated".

Airlines for Australia and New Zealand (A4ANZ) released a statement on Thursday claiming the runway expenditure figures released in Auckland Airport's annual report on Wednesday needed to be put under the microscope.

"While Auckland Airport management have acknowledged that these runway closures are unacceptable, their claims of significant runway spend deserve further scrutiny," Professor Graeme Samuel AC of A4ANZ said.

Flights diverted across the country when the runway was closed in early February.
Flights diverted across the country when the runway was closed in early February. Photo credit:


"They claim that between 2015 and 2019, $48 million has been spent on pavement replacement and airfield maintenance, but, based on their own information disclosures, the airport has spent just $33 million in runway slab replacement capex over the last five years."

Professor Samuel says there is a direct link between the underspending and the emergency maintenance that led to the runway being closed twice in the last two months.

"This pattern of underspend has led directly to the need for multiple closures, interrupting aircraft, inconveniencing customers, and driving more cost onto airlines as they recover from inevitable diversions," he said.

"Shareholders will continue to take massive profits while travellers to New Zealand will continue to experience 'third world' infrastructure for years to come." 

But, Auckland Airport says these claims are completely false and all figures released by the airport company are accurate.

"Any claims that we are underinvesting in aeronautical infrastructure are completely unfounded," a spokesperson said.

"We stand by our statement that between 2015 and 2019, $48 million was spent on pavement replacement and airfield maintenance." 

Every five years, the airport reviews and sets the amount they charge airlines to land, a figure based on promised capital and operational costs within that period.

A4ANZ claim Auckland Airport didn't spend as much as what had been planned.

"The facts are that over the last two price periods, Auckland Airport has underspent on forecast runway capex – meaning that they spent less on the runway than they knew was needed, whilst still charging airlines," Professor Samuel said.

Auckland Airport said that inevitably there will be underspend and overspend from year to year, but would be "happy to be judged at the end of the current five-year pricing period in 2022." 

Auckland Airport is spending $720 million over the next four years in upgrading, maintaining and expanding the airfield.