Airport extension won’t fly

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Calls for Jetstar to start flying to and from Nelson have been grounded.
Last week a Facebook page was set up to encourage budget airline Jetstar to fly into Nelson. The page has attracted hundreds of fans but Jetstar says it will not be able to fly into the top of the south unless the runway is extended to cater for its jet aeroplanes.
The current length of the Nelson Airport runway is 1347 metres. The kind of planes that Jetstar fly in New Zealand need a minimum length of around 1600 metres. The airline does have planes in Australia that could land in Nelson but it does not want to take them off those routes and move them across the Tasman.
Lengthening the runway could cost up to $60 million for the ratepayer-owned airport and is only one major stumbling block for the move.
Nelson Airport Ltd chief executive Kaye McNabb says even if the runway was extended the likelihood of jets flying commercial flights to and from Nelson is highly unlikely. The busiest route for the region is to Wellington and flying jets on that route, or other short flights, is simply uneconomical.
“The reality for Nelson is that jets don’t do short haul economically. Our busiest route is Nelson to Wellington and then to Christchurch and they aren’t what we call jet compliant routes. They don’t even get into cruise mode,” she says.
The Facebook page hoped Jetstar would bring more competition which would mean lower prices for Nelson’s air travellers. “Nelson is NZ’s fourth busiest airport, with only one major carrier. The people of Nelson are missing out and so is another major carrier on the competition dollar,” it said.
That was followed by other comments from fans of the page encouraging Jetstar to consider flying to and from Nelson.
Jetstar agrees that prices would drop if it were to come to town but says it would not consider a move to Nelson unless the runway could be lengthened. “We’re thrilled to see grassroots demand for Jetstar flights in Nelson. We’re always looking for new destinations where our low fares can offer up new opportunities for people to travel and we can understand why Nelson residents would want us to fly to the region given how much they’re paying for flights with the existing carrier in the market,” said a Jetstar spokesperson in a statement to Nelson Weekly. “Unfortunately the runway at Nelson Airport is a little short for our fleet of Airbus A320s. We’d be open to exploring the option of flying to Nelson if the runway was lengthened and, of course, subject to any regulatory consultation and approvals.”
Any increase in runway length is “highly unlikely”, according to Nelson Airport Ltd’s “master plan” that was released in 2010. The plan estimates the cost of extending the runway – to also cater for international flights – to be $40-$60 million including the costs of perimeter security, customs and immigration facilities. There would be other concerns as well, including noise restrictions.
Kaye says the airport would welcome more competition but the reality means Nelson is unlikely to see commercial jet planes flying to the city in the foreseeable future. “But hey, if they change their mind, we’d definitely welcome them.”