'An experience like the Maldives': Tonga's Vava'u Airport to be upsized as part of $172m development

The NZ economy will benefit from the multi-million dollar investment.
The NZ economy will benefit from the multi-million dollar investment. Photo credit: Getty Images

Tonga's Vava'u Airport is to be upgraded and have its runway lengthened as part of a NZ$172 million project intended to ensure the airport has capacity for direct international flights once global travel resumes.

The new development will allow Kiwi tourists to fly direct to Tonga's main tourism hub Vava'u for the first time as well as expanding trade access for a wider range of goods and services. 

New Zealand is Tonga's largest tourism market, making up 42 percent of visitor numbers.

Aotearoa is also a key export market for Tonga with two-way trade between the countries valued at NZ$240 million per annum. 

Diagram showing airport extensions.
Diagram showing airport extensions. Photo credit: Raw Mana

The project will see Vava'u International Airport's existing building replaced with a proposed new 8000sqm terminal and cargo facility along with an extended runway capable of accommodating long-range aircraft.

Investors hoped the new 2700m extended runway will allow for direct access from destinations including New Zealand and extending to Australia, the US, UAE and Asian markets such as Japan and China.

The airport currently services seasonal flights from Nadi.

It's not just Kiwi travellers who may benefit from the new airport either.

"Talks are currently underway with New Zealand architects, along with those in other markets, around the design of the new airport which will also provide opportunities for specialist skilled labour," a spokesperson for construction company Raw Mana said.

"The new airport will be one of the world's first to be designed to meet the needs of a post-COVID-19 tourism market and is considered a key component of the strategy in the regeneration and development of a high quality tourism market for the Pacific Island nation."

There are also plans for a multi-megawatt renewable energy plant to be built as part of the development to harness solar and wind to power for the airport, as well as contribute to Vava'u's resident population of over 13,700 - reducing emissions and working towards eliminating the need for imported diesel, which supplies 90 percent of power to the island.

"The direct flights would make it possible to land fish caught in Tongan waters and other fresh local produce on the tables of New Zealand restaurants the next day," Havea Gatti, Raw Mana Ltd CEO, said.

Gatti says the airport will also see a significantly increased capacity for high-value tourism and will encourage investment in hotels and associated businesses.

"Vava'u International Airport will provide direct access from key tourism markets helping increase the proportion of Tonga's GDP that is derived from this sector of the economy. We want to offer a premium experience for visitors which is in line with the positioning of other island destinations such as the Maldives," he said.