Auckland Airport presses go on loop road from international terminal

Auckland Airport is restarting work on a new loop road from its international terminal to meet projected post-Covid demand.

The airport put the brakes on a number of infrastructure projects following the collapse in demand for air travel last year but says the new exit from the international terminal area for travellers will deliver a robust transport network to meet future demand. The $10 million project is due to be finished around the middle of the year.

The road construction will complete a one-way loop from George Bolt Memorial Drive to the international terminal and exiting northwards back onto George Bolt Memorial Drive, the main road linking the airport to the central city.

Auckland Airport is completing this project while passenger volumes are reduced by Covid-19, as part of plans to deliver safety-critical works and key infrastructure.

The road is being built on land that is not currently part of the airport’s roading network, and its general manager of infrastructure Andre Lovatt said the project would cause minimal disruption for travellers and traffic around the airport precinct.

In March last year the company announced it had no choice but to put $2 billion worth of projects on ice.

The second runway is suspended again. A less dramatic downturn in travel in 2010 led to a pause then. While physical work had not quite started, there have been years of planning and design work and the company was expected to give the project the green light this year, with completion as early as 2028.

Other projects delayed included the Jet Hub, which would have replaced the ageing domestic terminal.A multi-storey carpark, park & ride south and construction of the 146-room Mercure Hotel near the airport shopping centre have also been delayed.

The company first released bold plans for the “airport of the future” in 2014, but that 30-year vision has been pushed out further because of the impact of the pandemic.

Latest monthly figures show total passenger movements were down by 68.6 per centin October 2020 compared to 2019. International passengers were down 97.2 per cent and domestic passengers were down by 34.9 per cent.

Analyst forecasts show it could be another three to four years before global international air traffic returns to 2019 levels and there is uncertainty about which airlines will return to the New Zealand market. From close to 30 airlines pre-pandemic there are now a handful running regular passenger services.

The company’s profit collapsed by 63 per cent to $194m in the 12 months to June 30, which included just four months of the worst impact of Covid-19.

Lovatt said the decision to press on with the loop road was the first green light for landside infrastructure since dozens of projects were shelved last year and reflected confidence that international growth would return

The new road was a key part of the Northern Network Project and once past the international terminal, airport users will now reconnect on the road back to the city at Manu Tapu Drive, further north.

“When Covid-19 hit the aviation sector, we made the decision to put some development projects on hold. Our teams worked hard to ensure existing investment in these projects was preserved and protected. When we return to this infrastructure work, we’re focussing first on safety, asset renewal and maintenance and then on enhanced aeronautical capacity.”

Preparatory work and some underground utilities for the new road were already in place before the pandemic.

“We’re continuing our upgrade work on George Bolt Memorial Drive, where we’re installing new services and utilities and widening the road to deliver high-occupancy vehicle lanes alongside shared pedestrian and cycle paths,” said Lovatt.

The one-way loop road is scheduled to come into use in mid-2021, at the same time as the new northbound lanes of George Bolt Memorial Drive are completed.

Lovatt said the completion of the road is also a critical enabler of other major works at the heart of Auckland Airport.

“When this project is completed, it opens the possibility of working on the international terminal, the pick-up/drop-off zone and carparks. This road creates the space for these projects to get underway.”

With aircraft movements sharply reduced during the past year, the airport has been able to replace paving at each end of its runway.

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