Government pledges $5.4 million for urgent maintenance at Kaitāia Airport

The future of Kaitāia Airport has been mired in uncertainty for many years. RNZ / Peter de Graaf

The future of Kaitāia Airport has been mired in uncertainty for many years.
Photo: RNZ / Peter de Graaf

The government has pledged more than $5 million to do urgent maintenance and upgrade work at Kaitāia Airport.

New Zealand’s northernmost airport came close to shutting down earlier this year due to a long-running dispute over land ownership.

While a deal negotiated by local iwi Ngāi Takoto with government ministers means the airport will stay open for at least the next 35 years, it is now in dire need of an upgrade.

Funding of $5.4m from the government’s $6 billion National Resilience Plan, which aims to lift infrastructure resilience after extreme weather events, will pay for a runway upgrade, drain maintenance, new security fencing and lighting, and refuelling facilities.

Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis said the airport was essential for access to health services, use by Civil Defence, and as an alternative to road transport when highways were closed by slips or flooding.

“Kaitāia Airport is a critical resource for Te Tai Tokerau’s communities but is in dire need of urgent upgrades to stay operational, which this funding will allow,” Davis said.

State Highway 1 has been closed south of Kaitāia since August 2022 by a series of massive landslides in Mangamuka Gorge, and SH10 is regularly closed by flooding.

Kaitāia Airport used to have an aircraft refuelling facility but it was removed some years ago.

A Transport Accident Investigation Commission report released in August into the sinking of the fishing charter boat Enchanter found a lack of aviation fuel in the Far North caused a more than four-hour delay in the second rescue mission.

The airport rescue deal negotiated by Ngāi Takoto will see the iwi buy the airport land from the Crown – a valuation is underway to establish the price – then place it in a joint iwi-hapū trust.

Trust ownership will be split 50-50 between Ngāi Takoto and three hapū of Ngāti Kahu with connections to the land.

Airport maintenance had been on hold for years due to uncertainty over its continued operation, and when the rescue deal was struck in August it was not yet clear how the catch-up would be funded.

Air New Zealand pulled out of Kaitāia in 2015.

Regional airline Barrier Air now provides up to four return passenger flights daily between Kaitāia and Auckland.

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