Specialists from GHD, a global engineering, architecture and environmental consulting firm, will spend the next nine months looking at the future needs of the airport.
They will take into consideration the potential impacts of climate change, the Government’s renewable energy targets, and whether the terminal is up to standard.
Tim Booth, GHD’s Aviation Leader in New Zealand, said the first component of the study involves assessing the runway and navigational aids.
The risk of higher seas and bigger storm surges – predicted consequences of climate change – could see changes made to protect the runway, he said.
Other things to look at include whether the control tower’s height and location are appropriate, and whether jet-blast needs to be more effectively mitigated.
Another component of the study involves looking at whether the airport terminal needs a makeover, which GHD Business Leader Russell Hawken said is very likely.
“There are some parts of the airport that are quite old. We think it can be better.”
He said the terminal looks good for visitors when they arrive, but leaving is a different story.
“When you drive up to it, it doesn’t look that flash. The tourism market is so important to the Cooks and their departure experience has to be as good as the arrival experience.”
The potential for rainwater harvesting at the terminal will also be considered.
The third component of the work is a feasibility study into the use of renewable energy, including the potential for solar panels on the roof.
“Part of what we’ll look at is where we could put solar panels and what they might generate,” said Hawken.
A separate project which recently kicked off at Rarotonga Airport will result in a massive solar panel array installed to the west of the runway.
Booth said GHD will be looking to dovetail into that project and fit into the Government’s ambitious goal of becoming 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy by 2020.
As part of this component, GHD will also look at the possibility of installing solar panels at Aitutaki Airport.
At the end of their six-month study, the team from GHD will spend another three months compiling their findings into a 20-year Airport Authority Strategic Plan and Rarotonga Airport Business Plan.
“All the work we’re doing will feed back into those two bodies of work,” said Booth. “It’s about planning for the future and then it’s up to the Airport Authority to tender out those contracts, either individually or combined.”
To carry out its study in the coming months, GHD will have 11 specialists on the ground over a combined total of 50 days, and the team will work closely with a range of Government agencies.