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High Court shoots down pilots' concerns over proposed Wellington runway extension

Thursday 7th July 2016

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The High Court in Wellington has backed a decision that a 90-metre safety area for an extended Wellington Airport runway is sufficient, turning down a bid by pilots who wanted a review because they didn't regard it as long enough. 

Justice Karen Clark yesterday rejected an application for judicial review of the Civil Aviation director's decision by the New Zealand Airline Pilots' Association saying the director didn't make an error in law in reaching the conclusion, nor was the consultation process with the NZAPA inadequate. 

The association, which represents about 2,200 pilots and air traffic controllers, sought to have the decision reviewed, claiming the 90-metre runway end safety area was too short and needed to be 240 metres. 

The judge rejected the NZAPA's claim that a cost-benefit analysis relied on by the director subordinated safety to cost, calling such criticism "unfounded". The threshold needed to establish an error of law based on "flawed evidence simply has not be met evidentially by the applicant," the judgment said. 

Justice Clark took a "cautious view" that the union had a legitimate expectation to be consulted on the proposed southern extension "because of the nature of the (Civil Aviation) Authority's assurances", but that didn't oblige the director to negotiate with the NZAPA. 

Wellington Airport wants to build a 350-metre runway extension in an effort to attract long-haul flights from Asia and the US, for an estimated $300 million. Majority shareholder Infratil has been pushing for central and local government to cover the cost, claiming the national and regional interest would benefit from the investment which wasn't viable on a standalone commercial basis. 

In a separate statement, chief executive Steve Sanderson said the decision means the company can pursue its application for consent and "provide confidence that our work has been considered and robust". 

The Greater Wellington Regional Council and Wellington City Council have been publicly notified about the project, and public submissions are being accepted until Aug. 12.

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