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Background and history

Air services are a critical form of transport, supporting the mobility and movement of goods, and underpinning the success of the tourism sector.

A variety of institutions is involved in the delivery of air services including airports, air traffic control, air navigation infrastructure and air safety and security (including police, customs and immigration). This section focuses largely on airports and air navigation services, which are the main physical infrastructure supporting air services.

The main business of airports is handling international and domestic flights. International passenger movements - inbound and outbound leisure, business and migration trips - are of tremendous value to the New Zealand economy. Over the past 10 years, international passenger movements have grown as follows:

Figure 25: International passenger movements by airport
Figure 25: International passenger movements by airport.
Source: Statistics New Zealand

Airports handle a relatively small volume of freight (0.6% of total imports and 0.5% of exports by volume), though these are of relatively high value (21% of imports and 15% of exports by value).[77] Trends in the international aviation market also have a persuasive impact on New Zealand air services. The most obvious is the rise in low-cost carriers, which require airports to cater for a wider variety of passengers and service needs.


New Zealand has 80 unpaved airports and 41 airports with paved runways varying from about 900m to over 3km in length:[78]

Table 23: Length of unpaved and paved runways
Over 3,047m: 2
2,438 to 3,047m: 1
1,524 to 2,437m: 12
914 to 1,523m: 25
Under 914m: 1

Source: CIA Factbook (2009)

These airports are located throughout New Zealand[79] and vary in age and condition. Auckland Airport is New Zealand's largest gateway, but Christchurch and Wellington also play significant roles, especially with traffic to and from Australia. In addition to the runways, navigational infrastructure and terminals, airports require supporting infrastructure (e.g. road links) to manage efficient passenger and freight movements.

Air navigation infrastructure is also an important element of air services, and traffic control infrastructure consists of:

  • 17 airport control towers at passenger airports throughout New Zealand. These are manned by air traffic controllers that control aircraft visually and, in the busier airports, through radar screens as well.
  • Airport lighting systems at all these airports plus several smaller ones.
  • A network of ground-based beacons to assist with route, approach and departure navigation.
  • A network of six secondary radars stretching from the Waitakeres near Auckland to Cass Peak near Christchurch provide airport positioning information to the two air traffic control centres at Auckland and Christchurch.
  • Four primary radars at Auckland, Ohakea, Wellington and Christchurch which can operate in high-traffic-density situations.
  • The Christchurch Centre from which controllers use the radar network to direct arriving or departing aircraft from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch airports.
  • The Auckland Centre, from which controllers use satellites to direct aircraft in the New Zealand Oceanic Area that extends 26 million square kilometres into the Pacific.

Institutional arrangements

New Zealand airports have a range of ownership structures. Many are owned by local government. Wellington and Auckland airports have public shareholdings. The Crown has an interest in airports, with minority shareholdings in Christchurch and Invercargill airports, and a 50% shareholding in Dunedin and Hawke's Bay airports. It is also a joint venture partner in six regional airports, and operates Milford Aerodrome. In addition there are some privately owned airports serving commuter, tourist or general aviation markets, and military airports.

The legislation governing the commercial operation of airports is set out in the Commerce Act, the Civil Aviation Act, the Airport Authorities Act, the Public Works Act, the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act.

Air navigational infrastructure is owned and operated by the Airways Corporation of New Zealand Ltd, a state-owned enterprise.

Airways Corporation has a monopoly under the Civil Aviation Act 1990 for the provision of air control services, approach control services and area flight information services. Aerodrome air traffic control services are contestable, although no alternative providers have emerged.


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