A brief summary of the background to the Tarras Airport story to date.

There is a new international airport proposed for Central Otago. It will be built at Tarras, at the head of Lake Dunstan. The airport will be capable of taking wide body jets – direct flights – from as far away as North America.

Many people are unaware of the details of the proposed airport – at least, what has been shared to this point.


Key details

Here’s a brief summary of what we know so far …

  • In July 2020, news broke of plans for a new international airport at Tarras, Central Otago. The airport is proposed by Christchurch International Airport Limited, based some 400 km from Tarras, where it operates an airport in Christchurch.
  • Christchurch International Airport Limited is owned 75% by Christchurch City Council and 25% by the New Zealand Government.
  • Leading up to July 2020, a man negotiating (in secret) on behalf of Christchurch Airport made multiple purchases of farmland, securing a total of 450ha of land for the airport project, at a total cost of $45m. According to media reports and a subsequent meeting of locals in Tarras, none of the vendors knew that the intention of the purchaser was to build an airport there.
  • Executives from Christchurch Airport have since confirmed that they had been planning the project for some time, and having secured the land, they intend to spend at least $600 million or more on the project. Aviation industry experts have estimated as much as $2 billion to build an airport of the size and scale proposed.
  • Malcolm Johns, CEO of Christchurch Airport until late 2022, confirmed in various interviews (including on Radio New Zealand when the news first broke) that the key rationale for the proposed airport is to cater for future growth in tourist numbers. To date, no detailed business case has been shared with the public.
  • It has subsequently been revealed by airport executives that a runway of between 2.2km and 2.5km is planned. This means that wide bodied jets from overseas would be able to fly directly from as far away as North America.
  • Flights will take off and land over Lake Dunstan and the township of Cromwell in one direction, and either over the Lindis Valley or in the direction of Lake Hawea and surrounding towns in another.
  • The flight path profiles and runway alignments now released confirm that jets will fly over Cromwell at around 1200 meters, and right over the bird sanctuary at Bendigo Wetlands (to the south of the proposed runway) at around 200 meters above the river.
  • Christchurch Airport executives say that the airport should be operational by 2030 and that they are underway with investigative work. They are already meeting with the local council, central government, local business groups and iwi.
  • Official Information Act requests have revealed that Christchurch Airport has been having regular meetings with the Central Otago District Council, but that there are no meeting agendas, and no minutes of those meetings.
  • Christchurch Airport has been criticised for making submissions to council which are thought to be aimed at “watering down environmental protections”.
  • Christchurch Airport talks about a “low carbon future” for aviation based on industry moves around aviation technology, sustainable aviation fuels and other advancements. It promises that the new airport will be world class.

Community reaction

  • To date there has been significant coverage in the national and industry media about the plans for Central Otago Airport.
  • Local/regional media has documented significant concern from people in Central Otago. Multiple articles in Crux have highlighted local dissatisfaction with “poor communication” from Christchurch Airport. On the 29th of September 2021, the Otago Daily Times published an article saying that Christchurch Airport’s “reprehensible and greedy proposal” is “like a horror movie”.  There have also been articles in national publications such as Stuff and Newsroom highlighting concerns.
  • At various meetings of Christchurch City Council, concerned residents have made public submissions to council that the new airport should not proceed. Protest groups (such as Extinction Rebellion) have staged protests at these meetings.
  • In Tarras, a group of concerned locals has formed in a bid to “get answers” from Christchurch Airport. Called “Sustainable Tarras”, the group states that there is a lack of information, and that it has been asking (unsuccessfully) for a public meeting with the Christchurch Airport Team for approximately 900 days. Sustainable Tarras has been active in the media voicing their frustration and concerns, and publishing information informing people of the issues they are concerned about.
  • Another group, Stop Central Otago Airport, formed initially on Facebook, with membership quickly growing to over 1,100 members from Central Otago, Christchurch and beyond.
  • Industry commentators, including a past CEO of Christchurch Airport and the former Deputy CEO of Air New Zealand, have stated publicly that the project is questionable.
  • Scientists and other experts have voiced concern at various aspects of the project, including the impact on tourism and the environment, the potential financial impact on Christchurch ratepayers and the impact on New Zealand’s quest to reduce carbon emissions in line with its international commitments.