Tarras airport business case 'marketing material': academics

by Kim Bowden - Sep 07, 2023

The latest document dump by Christchurch Airport to help build a case for its proposed international airport at Tarras has left a group of academics already against the project with even more concerns.

Almost 80 researchers and scientists have joined Distinguished Professor James Higham in signing a letter to the Prime Minister, other relevant government ministers and Christchurch City councillors after taking a week to review the latest research released by the airport.

In a statement to media yesterday, which included a copy of the signed letter, Mr Higham says the most recent round of information from the the airport is "very concerning" and the group's "previously expressed concerns have elevated further" in response to it.

In the letter, the academics, who call their collective 'Informed Leaders', say that while the Christchurch Airport company "claims nothing has been decided and 'investigations are ongoing', their communications reflect imbalance, bias and a predetermined view; entirely unhelpful way to frame such an important topic".

The letter goes on to list six specific topics of concern, which the academics say are just a selection of "numerous" examples of "unsubstantiated claims or assumptions at the heart" of what they call the airport's "marketing material" rather than research or reports.

The airport revealed projections that show demand for air travel to and from Central Otago is likely to grow to approximately 6.8 million by 2050, with project lead Michael Singleton telling Crux status quo infrastructure will fail to meet this demand. 

His company's preference announced last week is for a runway between 2,200 and 2,600 metres long at Tarras, suitable for wide body jets and potentially operating 24 hours a day.

But the academics challenge the view growth in international visitor numbers is desirable or inevitable, saying "the need to manage future growth, rather than submit to it, is completely lost" in Christchurch Airport's plans. 

"The numbers CIAL (Christchurch International Airport) presents do not fit with a sustainable future or economy, nor with tackling climate change," they say in the letter.

"These numbers are also at odds with numerous policy documents at central and local government level, in direct conflict with the documented concerns of all of the lower South Island’s Regional Tourism Organisations, and most importantly with Central Otago residents.

"MBIE specifically required Destination Management Plans to be developed in ways informed directly by local resident opinions on the future of tourism.

"CIAL’s documentation ignores all of this."

Similar concerns were raised by Lake Wānaka Tourism and Destination Queenstown, who in a joint statement last week said plans for the airport at Tarras did not align with their "quality over quantity" approach to tourism endorsed by the community in the district's recently adopted Destination Management Plan.

The organisations believe the airport could drive visitor numbers to the region “on a scale never seen before”, with host communities bearing the "burden" of industry growth.

The academics are also sceptical of some of the airport's claims around sustainability and climate impact, saying it is increasingly accepted the aviation industry is a long way off significant decarbonisation, and statements suggesting otherwise are misleading.

Because Christchurch's calculations of carbon emissions do not include scope three emissions - emissions from the planes themselves - there's a "significant misrepresentation" of carbon credentials, as far as the academics are concerned.

"CIAL can be proud of reductions in some of its operational carbon emissions as a result of innovations at Christchurch Airport.

"But their calculations exclude over 99 percent of actual emissions at the airport.

"The exclusion of scope three emissions, most notably the flights that the airport serves, is now viewed internationally as misleading.

"An airport by its very nature is a carbon intensive operation."

Informed Leaders reckon Christchurch Airport's proposed long runway and visitor number projections do not fit with a sustainable future or economy, nor with tackling climate change (Image supplied).

The academics say in enabling many more long-haul flights, Christchurch Airport, through its Tarras project, "will be proactively adding significant carbon emissions to New Zealand’s ledger whilst other industries are moving to reduce emissions".

Representatives of the group have arranged a briefing session with Christchurch City Councillors this month.

The council is a 75 percent owner of Christchurch International Airport Ltd.

The group says it also continues to extend an offer to the airport company to discuss the issues “openly and transparently".

In their letter they claim "worryingly absent from all of CIAL’s public communications is a commitment to fully factor in the existing science and research".

"This should be the starting point. 

"Unfortunately that body of science casts long shadows of doubt over the Central Otago Airport project."

After being approached by Crux today for comment on the contents of the letter, Christchurch Airport says it's responded in the past to the matters raised by the group.

"This includes the acknowledgement that New Zealand needs to continue to fully explore all options so that we end up with the right infrastructure in the right place. 

"We’re also clear that there are robust regulatory frameworks in which those conversations can occur. That hasn’t changed. 

"It’s CIAL’s intention to continue to engage openly with the public. We saw this last week where more than 500 people turned up over three days to engage with the project."

The letter, as well as details of the signatories and an index of research relevant to the Tarras proposal, can be found at www.informedleaders.com.

Main image (Supplied): Concept plans released last week by Christchurch Airport as part of a business case for its proposed Central Otago Airport at Tarras.

Read more: Community gets first glimpse of Tarras airport plans

Read Christchurch Airport's information documents for yourself:

Landscape information sheet

Preferred runway alignment sheet

Land transport infrastructure information sheet part one

Land transport infrastructure information sheet part two

Land transport infrastructure information sheet part three


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