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Auckland's airport for forty years

27 January 2006

Auckland's airport for forty years

This Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of the official opening of Auckland International Airport

On Saturday, 29 January 1966, at 12.30pm Auckland International Airport was officially opened by the Governor General, Brigadier Sir Bernard Fergusson. Those attending included the Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, Government ministers, local mayors, Auckland Regional Authority leaders, airline, Government department and military chiefs, representatives from the major contractors and a crowd of over 200,000 members of the public.

The official opening was commemorated with a 'Grand Air Pageant' held over three days. In a booklet published to commemorate the occasion, Prime Minister Keith Holyoake wrote, "The opening of Auckland International Airport at Mangere on 29 January 1966 is a milestone in the history of New Zealand aviation and of Auckland in particular. It represents much planning, 10 million [pounds] in money and five years of physical work. It signifies Auckland's growing importance as a commercial centre and as a gateway to New Zealand."

After the official ceremony, the Auckland Aero Club put on an aerobatic display followed by performances from vintage aircraft, commercial airliners such as DC-8s, BAC1-11s and a Boeing 707 and a show of military might as aircraft from the RNZAF, the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force performed aerobatics.

In the forty years since it first opened, Auckland Airport has seen continual change and development. Because of budget and timing issues, the airport opened with all passengers (domestic and international) using the same terminal - the current Air New Zealand domestic terminal. International passengers didn't get their own terminal until 1977, when the current international facility was opened. This development was long-planned and necessary in the mid-seventies, with almost 20,000 passenger movements a week from overseas flights. In 2006, over 30,000 people pass through the airport every day.

The new terminal was an exciting development for the Auckland Regional Authority (ARA), the body which operated Auckland Airport at the time. With the first airbridges in the country, the new international terminal was highly regarded, with the public marveling over the escalators and green carpet which was meant to represent the green fields of New Zealand. The architects designed into the building structure the ability to extend the terminal without compromising its structural integrity.

Almost the day that the terminal opened, these expansions were necessary due to the many years of delay in construction. From an initial 705,553 passengers in 1966, the airport now handles over 11 million passengers each year.

The international terminal pier was extended from the original six to ten gates in 1994, and major development work has occurred in the check-in, departures, retail and arrivals area. In fact, the international terminal has grown from an initial 12,383 square metres in 1977 to its current 98,690 square metres. Projects to separate arriving and departing international passengers, fully screen all luggage on departing flights, increase aircraft parking, enlarge check-in facilities and expand emigration and immigration processing areas have been completed in the past two years.

Other major developments since 1966 include the increasing size and types of aircraft - the first Boeing 747 'Jumbo Jet' landed in December 1972 and in 1986 a British Airways Concorde touched down in Auckland for the first time.

The ARA ran the airport until the creation of the corporate entity Auckland International Airport Limited (AIAL) on 1 April 1988. In 1998 the government sold down its shareholding in an initial public offer of shares - AIAL is now owned by over 52,000 shareholders, many of them New Zealand 'mum and dad' investors. In the early 1990s, the airport began development of a property portfolio that includes shopping, commercial and business areas.

The Minister of Civil Aviation at the time of the official opening, Mr J.K. McAlpine wrote, "The opening of the new international jet airport at Auckland will be a major event for the South Pacific. For the people of Auckland it will place the city and district firmly on the map of international aviation.

"For the people of New Zealand, it will mean direct jet connections with the outside world, and a major boost for the country's growing tourist industry... The opening of the Auckland Airport will complete a network of jet airports across the South Pacific, and in doing so will launch a new era of progress for New Zealand."

Current AIAL chief executive, Don Huse, says that a lot has changed in the forty years since the official opening. "As it was then, Auckland Airport is New Zealand's gateway airport. It now handles more than 70 percent of the country's international passengers. By value it is the country's second ranked freight port (air and sea) by value of goods. It is one of New Zealand's most important economic assets.

"The airport has come a long way in the past forty years. Looking to the future, it is essential that Auckland Airport continues to provide world-class facilities and services that support New Zealand's economic prosperity and well-being. The next forty years... and beyond... are going to be very exiting in the history of this airport."


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