Hawke’s Bay airport accused of blocking planes from entering
Turmoil is brewing in Hawke’s Bay with accusations that the region’s airport is geared more towards commercial interests than actual aviation.
It comes during a complete overhaul of the management, with several personnel changes.
At Hawke’s Bay Airport, some say you’ll soon be welcomed to a solar farm or industrial site rather than an airport.
While the airport inaugurated its newly renovated terminal last year, it also wants to build a solar farm and a 10-hectare business park.
Entrepreneur Sean Colgan was unimpressed.
He wanted to have an aircraft that could fly to and from Napier to support his business interests, and needed an airport hangar to do so.
The airport “didn’t treat us at all, they won’t answer any questions,” he said.
It made no sense, he added.
“All the other airports welcome planes – they do. Only in Napier you have this dichotomy ‘we are an airport but we don’t want planes’.”
Tony Johnson was in the same position – he also wanted to build a private shed.
He had tried to speak at the airport for three years, only to be rejected.
“I’ve tried to advance their position through logic and argument, but they just don’t want to listen…they seemed to have missed the fact that it’s actually an airport and it doesn’t there is only one place where planes can operate.”
Longtime driver Gerald Grocott said “we’ve downgraded rail service to Hawke’s Bay, there’s no more passenger service – we’ve downgraded Napier-Taupō Rd, State Highway 5 with speed limits and a lack infrastructure support, and I’m concerned we’re doing the exact same thing at Hawke’s Bay airport.”
Without the small operators – what is called general aviation – there would be no aviation industry, he said.
“The job of the regional airport is really to offer a vegetable garden, a breeding ground for these young people so that when the airlines or the industry in general want it, they can come and use their little knife and cut the number of pilots or engineers they want, but if the garden is not cultivated, there is nothing to produce.
The airport is state owned – 50% by the Crown, 26% by Napier City Council and 24% by Hastings District Council.
Grocott arranged a meeting with Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise to voice the group’s concerns.
But Wise said she could not interfere with the airport’s business decisions.
“As a shareholder of the airport, it’s not our role to get involved in operational matters like that, so most of our conversation was actually about the governance of the airport,” she said.
Together, the councils of Napier and Hastings choose two of the four council members. Wise said they will likely appoint new board members later this year.
“We are always looking at the skill mix of any boards we are responsible for appointing. So certainly when we look to recruit for the next appointment, we will make sure we have the appropriate skill set to place in the current members of the board of directors.”
Hawke’s Bay airport general manager Rob Stratford, who has been in the job for about two months, declined to be interviewed.
But a public relations representative sent a statement attributed to him.
“We are actively engaged with the general aviation community at Hawke’s Bay Airport. I recently had a constructive meeting with a community representative, who reported to the groups AGM this week, and I have scheduled a number of meetings with individual members,” he said.
Grocott, who met with Stratford, agreed the meeting was “very constructive”.
In addition to the departure of the former chief executive last year, there have been changes in some of the airport’s other key management positions, such as operations directors and commercial directors.