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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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The two main islands of New Zealand constitute a long, narrow country of over 1,000 miles in length with a small population of 2½ million in widely eparated main groups. The chief centre of population, Auckland, is near the northern extremity; the large population surrounding the capital is at the far end of the North Island; and the population centres of the South Island–Christchurch, Dunedin, and Invercargill–complete the links of a very long chain. Apart from these major centres, which constitute the “domestic trunk route” on which the bulk of the air traffic flows, there are sizable population centres around the perimeter of the North Island and in the central areas, but the remainder of the population is in scattered small communities. These facts in them–selves would make it unlikely that every district would be conveniently served by air. Other factors limiting the provision of airports are the rugged and broken terrain of most of the country and the chronic short age of capital and labour which noticeably affect the national economy. In spite of these difficulties, much has in fact been done. There are over 100 licensed aerodromes in New Zealand, and about 10,000 grass strips are used for agricultural aviation. Of the licensed-aerodromes the majority are grass fields, and unsuitable for operations by modern turbine-engined aircraft. A number of new paved aerodromes are to be built, but for many of the smaller centres of population the quest for a modern small transport aircraft, capable of economical operation from grass airfields, is of primary importance.

In the development of aerodromes advantage has been taken of the local civic pride, which has continued to be a marked feature of New Zealand life since the foundation of the original separate settlements in the nineteenth century. A policy of sharing with local authorities the costs and the operation of aerodromes extends even to the main airports at Wellington and Christchurch and to New Zealand's new international airport under construction at Mangere, near Auckland. The State, however, finances and provides such “airways facilities” as navigational aids, aeronautical communications, meteorological services, and air-traffic control.

Wellington handles more passengers than any other airport in New Zealand (domestic travel included) but Auckland is the logical site for the main international airport because it is the largest population centre and nearest to the air routes between Australia, the Pacific, and the Americas. In 1964, however, the best runway in New Zealand for long-range international services was at Christchurch. The topography of Wellington limits the length of its runway, which has steep hills near one end and the sea at the other. In Auckland, the existing aerodrome (Whenuapai) is an Air Force aerodrome, built during the war of hexagonal concrete blocks and not strong enough for the largest modern aircraft: strengthening would be a difficult and costly undertaking owing to unsatisfactory subsoil. Christchurch, on the other hand, has an airport built on an extremely hard subsoil and of great strength.

Principal features of the main airports are:

Auckland (Whenuapai). Jointly operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Civil Aviation Administration, it constitutes New Zealand's main international airport at present. There are three runways, of lengths 4,590, 5,150, and 4,650 ft. It is suitable for international operations by most piston-engined and turbo-propeller aircraft, but not by large jet aircraft.

Auckland (Mangere). To be completed in 1965. The main runway, which is to be of concrete, will initially be 8,500ft long and capable of handling all types of aircraft; but large jet aircraft may not be able to take off with full loads for long flights (for example, non-stop to Honolulu) until the runway is further extended to 10,000 ft.

Wellington (Rongotai) Airport. Is built on a narrow neck of land between Wellington harbour and Cook Strait, a large hill having been levelled to make room for it. It is unusual in being only 3 miles from the centre of the city. The main runway is 5,350 ft long, and the combination of the sea at one end and steep hills near the other would make it difficult and costly to provide any useful extension. Consequently, there are restrictions on the availability of the airport for large aircraft. The Electra aircraft of Tasman Empire Airways and QANTAS provide services between Wellington and Australia, and occasional international charter flights land at Wellington, but the airport cannot receive the largest types of modern aircraft, such as the Boeing 707 jet, and, owing to possible hazards from the surrounding hills, night flying is permitted only to flight captains familiar with the terrain. It is, of course, the hub of the domestic air network.

Christchurch (Harewood) Airport is built on the gravel bed of a former river, has two runways, one of 6,600 ft and one of 5,700 ft, which are of great strength. The airport is the base for the United States Deep Freeze Organisation, which employs very large freighter aircraft for the Antarctic. The airport also handles domestic and trans-Tasman services. Runway extensions and provision of technical aids to cater for commercial jet services are in hand.

At all New Zealand airports a keen endeavour is being made to earn revenue from sources other than aircraft operators. Advertisement space, office accommodation, shops, and similar concessions are leased, frequently on a profit-sharing basis. Car parks, restaurants, and similar amenities provide other important sources of income.