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A stunning gateway

Our new airport terminal was blessed last Friday and opened for passengers this Tuesday. It is stunning. I love the architecture that mirrors our mountains, the laminated timber manufactured by Nelson Pine and the huge glass frontage that captures our famed sunshine and wonderful vista. The engineer in me is also excited by the use of the new tectonus seismic system that you can see in the timber columns. 

The upgrade was overdue. The old terminal was opened in 1974 when passenger numbers were 20,000 a year. It has become increasingly over crowded over the past decade as numbers have soared to over a million a year. Nelson is New Zealand’s fifth busiest airport after Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown, despite many other centres being larger. This reflects our geographical isolation, popular tourism industry and the frequency and quality of our air services.

I commend the leadership and project management of this massive project. We owe our thanks to Nelson Airport Board Chair Paul Steere, CEO Rob Evans, Project Manager Matt Griffin, their full team and the architects, contractors and subbies. Constructing a project of this size while keeping the airport functioning safely is a logistics nightmare. We still have a year of transition ahead of us as the old terminal is demolished, the new terminal extended south and the roading and parking infrastructure reconfigured.

Our two Councils deserve credit for supporting this $30m investment in our region’s infrastructure. I have been pushing for this upgrade since 2010 and both Mayors and Councils have been supportive. My role was in helping get the $5m capital approval from Cabinet for the new Airways Corporation control tower.

This new terminal is also a statement of how important aviation is to the region.  Prime Minister Syd Holland was ridiculed in the 1950s when the Government provided £20,000 for the airport in compensation for not linking Nelson to the national railway network. His statement then that air travel would become more important than rail has proved to be true.

There are some who have ambitions for international flights into Nelson and who have lobbied for runway extensions to enable jet services. I am cautious. Ratepayers in Rotorua, Invercargill, Palmerston North and Hamilton are paying dearly for similar big plans. Our airport is one of the few in regional New Zealand that pays Councils a dividend. Nelson has carved out a niche as a centre of excellence in turboprop aircraft. Our services work because of their frequency and competitiveness. Nelson Airport is better to focus on being the best rather than the biggest.

The airport is a gateway for our region. It is about first impressions for visitors. It is where we farewell our loved ones. It is where we welcome home our heroes. My hope for the completed project is a warm, friendly and welcoming place that celebrates the nature, art and industries that make Nelson so special.

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