No funding for airport upgrade

Monday 1 March 2021 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Outer Islands

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No funding for airport upgrade
A CI News file photo of Manihiki's airport. 20052254

Covid-19 had disrupted plans to start Manihiki airport upgrade work, but construction could be ready as early as July, if funding is available for the project.

Manihiki airport upgrade is in the pipeline but there’s no funding yet to start the project, says Secretary of Infrastructure Cook Islands, Diane Charlie-Puna.

Charlie-Puna said the ministry is in the process of trying to get the airport to meet the minimum infrastructure requirements.

“We’re trying to build an airport to accommodate bigger planes.”

An upgrade means the current coral runway would be sealed and extended.

Government negotiations took place a week ago on the island to discuss the land acquisition needed to make the airport larger.

Charlie-Puna said the new airport will be around 150 metres by 2000 metres, about 74 acres.

Currently, the largest plane able to fly to Manihiki can carry a maximum of 15 passengers. The upgrade will mean up to 34 people can fly to the island.

The plane that will make the flights is Air Rarotonga’s Saab 340B, which at present, exclusively flies between Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

The island’s airport upgrade is part of the Cook Islands National Infrastructure Investment Plan.

Since February 11 a request for tender has been made by ICI. The request is for the design of the airport upgrades in Manihiki and Tongareva.

Charlie-Puna said Covid-19 had disrupted plans to start work, but construction could be ready as early as July, providing there is funding available for the project.

On February 18, a Government delegation went to Manihiki to discuss the upgrades with landowners. The trip consisted of, Charlie-Puna, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Tapaitau, former prime minister Henry Puna and his wife Akaiti Puna.

Attending was also the leader of the Opposition Tina Browne.

Charlie-Puna said Browne attended the trip because of her history previously taking part in Manihiki airport negotiations.

In 2008 Browne was acting on behalf of landowners when attempts were made by Government to acquire the land for the airport.

But issues of ownership amongst landowners resulted in the project being put on hold.

On this trip, Browne was assisting the delegation in negotiations.

Browne said: “It was an excellent outcome. The owners unanimously agreed that the work on the airport must go ahead and the ownership issues will be determined in due course.

“The hope for the people in Manihiki and other islands in the north is that the upgrade will result in cheaper airfares and more cargo space.”

Charlie-Puna said part of the trip was to ensure landowners understood the benefits of the new airport.

She said compensation was discussed as part of the negotiations, adding the landowners would receive the benefit of having the upgraded airstrip but not any compensation for the land.

“If we had to pay for that land, it would be more expensive then to upgrade the airport.”

Charlie-Puna said another meeting is planned for landowners based in Rarotonga.

“There is still more work to be done.”

Tina Browne said the next step is for the land to be formally surveyed and acquisition of the land needs to be completed by Government.