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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Airport project ‘disaster from inception’

Tuesday 15 November 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Airport project ‘disaster from inception’

Dear Editor, The $6.5 million runway replacement project was a disaster waiting to happen before it even started. Look at the people in charge. The project manager, Ianis Boaza, is an Airport Authority board member and deputy chairman. He is a political appointment, with no engineering qualifications and experience. Taoro Brown, is the chairman of the Airport Authority, another political appointment, with no engineering qualifications and experience.

The newly appointed Airport Authority CEO, another political appointment, lacking senior management work experience and has no engineering qualifications and experience. Marama Nicholas, brought on as jobs for the boys, close political associates and more suited for the modelling industry.

The integrity of this whole project has been jeopardised and now the project manager Ianis Boaza is saying, “those new slabs with small hairline cracks do not necessarily pose any safety issue”. Is Ianis Boaza saying that he will take full responsibility when and if a heavily loaded 767 or 777 aircraft with a maximum landing weight of 158,000-202,000 kgs or 223 tons breaks up the hairline cracks to a point that may cause an accident?

Safety is only one issue here. The other issue here is project management. Who is in charge of the project, its certification, its expenditure and its sign-off? Due to the circumstances surrounding this project, the Airport Authority cannot review its own work and failures. Each slab cost over $108,000. A review must be carried out by an independent body or person, qualified in this specific area of work. The Airport Authority is a Crown owned entity and therefore must be accountable to its shareholders, the government, Parliament and taxpayers.

For the chairman, Taoro Brown to merely say, “we don’t know what the costs will be (to replace the slabs) … it comes down to money, we are waiting on funding, it could come from New Zealand or from the government”. This shows incompetence and irresponsibility at the highest level. An independent review must be instigated by Government to review all stages of this project and to find out how the hairline cracks came about on the new slabs and what mitigating factors are apparent from this project failure. This is a major problem when political appointees are given jobs, way out of their skills, qualifications and experience.

A Slab of Incompetence

(Name and address supplied)

Response from Airport CEO – Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the letter which I do hope that none of my comments are amended/removed that will be tailored to suit one’s own agenda.

On two occasions, subsequent to an interview by the Cook Islands news reporter regarding the runway slab project, I requested for the reporter to provide me with his final draft allowing myself to review information prior to publication. Although, I provided feedback to align to correct information, however this was disregarded. As a result, misleading information being published has exacerbated the issue of the runway slab project in its entirety.

In response to the letter, as everyone has the right to freedom of expression, nevertheless there are few statements identified which are incorrect. Firstly, Ianis Boaza is a former deputy chairman and board member. The common phrase used in the letter includes “no engineering qualification and experience” and “safety”. I can confirm we have had the project engineer and an independent engineer (based in New Zealand and Europe) to carry out the investigation/review of the runway slab project and both have confirmed that these hairline cracks do not compromise safety. In addition, we the AACI (Airport Authority Cook Islands) act on behalf of the engineer’s advice and not our own – again information that formed part of my feedback to the reporter’s news article prior to publish. Whilst we await for the independent engineer report, we will not comment any further as this will lead to speculation. If we do not have the experience/expertise in a particular field, we engage with specialise personnel overseas.

Comments surrounding “heavily loaded 767 or 777 ... breaks up the hairline cracks to a point that may cause an accident”, we have safety mechanism in place, proactively to preclude such event. To add, we have a runway maintenance programme which is carried out once a week, and daily runway check with engagement with engineers overseas.

Lastly, I am not a person that likes to boast about my achievement/experience however, if I may briefly explain regarding my credentials in response to the letter. I hold a Bachelor of Engineering Technology, Bachelor of Aviation Management (First Class Honours) and Masters in Aviation (with Distinction) and the list goes on with other achievements. I have over 15 years experience in the aviation industry working in senior roles with the latest holding a leadership role at Virgin Australia representing the airline at conferences. Although the majority of my experience is based within the airline industry, however, I believe my skills and experience can be transitioned to this role. I do agree I lack the experience in the airport industry and have few deficiencies in areas at a senior level, nevertheless I am still learning in my new role. With the support and guidance of Board of Directors, former CEO and staff at AACI this will expedite my learning. As long as our decisions and actions are in the best interest of the Airport and the people of the Cook Islands, I believe the airport will continue prospering.

I will not comment any further on the Runway Slab project until we have received the engineers report.

Meitaki Maata, Te Atua the aroa.

Nikau Tangaroa

CEO

Airport Authority Editor’s note – It is not our policy to provide draft copies of stories but we do make exceptions (especially in phone interviews) to read back the quotes. A Cook Islands News journalist emailed the quotes of Airport executives, who were interviewed regarding the slab project on Friday, November 11, to Tangaroa, but by the time he responded to the email, it was already past the deadline and the story had gone to print. The interview with Airport executives was recorded and the quotes used in the article were those provided to the newspaper during the interview.