Chatham Islands to welcome passenger jets when airport runway extension is completed

Passenger jets could soon be winging it out to the Chatham Islands where the only runway is being extended to cater for increasing visitor numbers and a surging demand for export freight.

Construction is already underway at the airport and project director Jeff Oldman says upon completion the maximum size is a category that includes a Boeing 737 or the Airbus A320.

Every piece of heavy machinery and materials were shipped over on a barge from the mainland - equipment that's much-needed to remove mountains of earth and build a longer, stronger tarmac.

"Some sands, sandy material, then some rock, and then some crushed gravel and finally an asphalt surface that the plane can traverse," Oldman tells Newshub.

The Downer Group knows this land well since it built the original runway back in 1981. But since then there's been no major work on it.

While the current runway may look big enough, the project will add another 500m, making it 1800m in length - long enough to land passenger jets.

"What it really does is it future-proof the island in terms of its connectivity. I mean, there is no State Highway 1 to the Chatham Islands, it is the airport," says Air Chathams chief operating officer Duane Emeny.

The runway at Chatham Islands Airport is getting an extension.
The runway at Chatham Islands Airport is getting an extension. Photo credit: Newshub.

The next task on the to-do list is to build more housing. 

"We could instantly fill 20 [houses]. You know, whether it's one bedroom, two bedroom or three bedroom, whatever the model is," says Gail Amaru from Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri Iwi.

All building materials need to be brought to the island from elsewhere. But with a freight ship just once every two weeks combined with a severe supply shortage, there are more jobs available than houses.

"You might notice on the Chathams anyone who's out and about has multiple jobs and multiple tasks," says Chatham Islands Mayor Monique Croon.

Keeping the island ticking over until the gateway for supplies gets bigger.