13 March 2020

Investment in Hood Airport a Precursor to an Air Service?

Investment in Masterton Airport will improve Wairarapa's resilience and its bid for a return to commuter flights,, the district council says. A $1 million investment in Hood Aerodrome's runway was one of the big-ticket items in Masterton District Council's draft annual plan, which will be discussed by councillors on Wednesday. It is part of a bid to return passenger flights to Wairarapa after a six-year hiatus. Increased spending on the airport, including an additional $151,000 to upgrade airport systems, was one of the main drivers for an expected rates rise next year. Other spending driving up rates include Henley Lake's consent, refuse, water, roading and economic development initiatives.The report said rates would increase at an average of six per cent. In all, council officers have recommended the airport receive $1.39m in funding for improvements. This includes a $1m loan to cover runway widening and development and new aircraft hangars. The investment is also linked to a Provincial Growth Fund bid to lure passenger services back to Wairarapa. A council spokesperson said the loan would be repaid from rates over 20 years. In addition to council funding, the Wairarapa Vintage Aviation Hub Community Trust has made its own application to the Provincial Development Unit for funding the Hood Aerodrome. Kevin Ward, of the New Zealand Airports Association, said council had said the investment would help boost economic growth and improve the region's resilience in an emergency. The aerodrome is home to the popular Wings over Wairarapa event, and other tourist attractions. Ward said Whakatane's role in the Whakaari/White Island rescue missions was a good example of smaller aviation centres being used in a crisis. A number of those small centres have serious hospital patients and other requirements that mean Aviation is often the best way to link small towns to the cities, with larger hospitals. "In the last couple of years, we've also seen a lot of civil defence usage." "So, there's a range of reasons why smaller airports are really valuable for their communities." However, district councillor Chris Peterson said further questions should be asked about expenditure on flights. Peterson said councillors should also consider the impact air travel had on the environment. "I'm not saying we have to do anything dramatic at this stage," he said. "But one of the questions we should at least ask ourselves is, what is the long-term future of airports, and of recreational flying going to be, when we get serious about greenhouse gas emissions?" Wednesday's meeting to approve the annual plan recommendations takes place at the council's Waiata House headquarters in Masterton from 3pm.

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