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Whenuapai ‘critical’ to Civil Defence

Whenuapai ‘critical’ to Civil Defence

Retaining Whenuapai as an airport is “strongly desirable”, according to the region’s Civil Defence officials.

Waitakere City Council’s case for Whenuapai Airbase to be retained as an asset has been strengthened on the grounds that the airport is a valuable asset for civil defence purposes.

In a report released today, a project team established under the umbrella of the Auckland Region Civil Defence Emergency management Group (CDEMG) says Whenuapai is the only credible backup in the region to Auckland International Airport (Mangere) in the event of a disaster.

The government has announced that the existing RNZAF base will close in 2005. Waitakere City Council and airport operators Infratil want the base retained as a commercial airport. This will help replace the $250 million a year economic loss that Waitakere City will suffer as a result of the closure of the base.

The CDEMG is made up of representatives of all the local bodies in the Auckland region. After being approached by the New Zealand Defence Force to provide information, officials supporting the Group established a project team to evaluate the importance of Whenuapai Airbase in terms of Civil Defence. The New Zealand Defence Force is currently considering options for disposal and future use of the airbase.

Its report says the use of Whenuapai could be “critical” in the event of Auckland International Airport being disabled in an emergency. It says that Whenuapai can also provide an alternative in handling emergency air traffic, to allow Mangare Airport to function normally.

A benefit of having both Whenuapai and Auckland International Airport (AIAL) available for emergency services is that they are served by two completely different parts of the road network, a risk mitigation strategy against the risk of network damage, says the report.

The report also says that Mangere is potentially more susceptible to earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions.

“Retaining a backup capability where one already exists makes good sense if this can be done at minimal cost to emergency management agencies and the Crown,” says the report.

The report goes on: “With the likelihood of Whenuapai being expanded if it were to be operated commercially, Whenuapai is likely to be in a position to deal with larger aircraft than at present. This would enable it to cater for almost all aircraft likely to be used in an emergency event response.”

Meanwhile, a public opinion survey, conducted in Waitakere, North Shore and Rodney indicates that a vast majority of residents want commercial flights to begin from Whenuapai as soon as possible. Cabinet is expected to make a decision on future options for the airbase in the next few weeks.

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