Former UN Worker Says Politicians Must Unite To Save Kāpiti Airport — Lives Depend On It

Shane Cave says all the region’s electoral candidates, and local politicians, should declare whether they want to keep Kāpiti Airport open — because lives will depend on it.

Mr Cave is a Raumati resident who formerly worked for the United Nations in many of the world’s troublespots.

In a special report for KIN, he says: ‘Kāpiti Airport is an essential part of the regional civil defence Infrastructure.

Importance goes beyond Kāpiti

It’s of significant concern to many people who live on the Kapiti Coast, the new owners having declaring that it’s uneconomic to run as an airport.

But it’s greatest significance — its civil defence role — extends well beyond the Kāpiti Coast to all who live in the wider Wellington region.

As it’s election time there’s a challenge for all the region’s electoral candidates, and current regional and local politicians for that matter, to declare their position on keeping the Airport open.

Citizens need to know before they cast their votes.

 Lives will depend on this in the future

Political campaigns generate arguments but this airport’s regional civil defence status is beyond argument and is vital to everyone — from Kāpiti to Rongotai in the south, and to Upper Hutt in the north.

When the inevitable earthquake hits Wellington and the Hutt Valley the only feasible way into Wellington will be by sea or air and the only back-up airport in the region is the one at Kāpiti.

The airport’s vital civil defence role was recognised in December 2018 when the Emergency Management Agency assigned Kapiti Airport a crucial role for the Defence Force in the Wellington Earthquake National Initial Response Plan (WENIRP).

(The reference to Kapiti Airport is on page 18 of the WENIRP Annex)

Regional significance

The Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) already classifies Kapiti Airport as “Regionally Significant Infrastructure.” ( see page 194 of the GWRC Wellington Regional Policy Statement).

If Wellington airport is only partly damaged, planes that can land on short runways are called for in the Earthquake Response Plan, otherwise it’s helicopters. There’s nowhere else in Wellington or the Hutt Valley for fixed wing aircraft to land.

As for taking-off to get into Wellington all the options, apart from Kapiti, are too far away (Ohakea and Palmerston North), have the notoriously windy Remutakas in the way (Masterton’s Hood Aerodrome) or are subject to the hostile vagaries of Cook Straight winds (Woodbourne near Blenheim).

Even a nearby earthquake is likely to do enormous damage to Wellington and the airport. The 1855 Wairarapa earthquake generated New Zealand’s largest recorded tsunami – 11 metres high – which completely inundated the Rongotai-Kilbirnie isthmus where Wellington Airport now stands.

Airport is sited in the right place

Kāpiti’s airport is already properly oriented to allow operation in the often strong prevailing winds in the region, it is close to the Main Trunk Railway line and even closer to State Highway One, all vital factors in having a viable back-up airport in the event of the inevitable earthquake which faces the capital.

The massive but little publicised damage to the Wellington container port done by the Kaikoura earthquake shows how isolated Wellington will be when a major earthquake occurs. The damage took years to repair.

I’ve lived and worked around the world in places like Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, and have seen the alarming consequences of inadequate civil defence infrastructure.

I reiterate it’s vital that all elected officials commit to securing the long-term future of the airport and I look forward to seeing their positions made public.

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