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A Guide to Auckland International Airport

Whether your first experience of New Zealand is seeing the majestic mountains and sublime coastline from the air or on a rental copy of The Lord of the Rings, the country leaves an impression that is extremely hard to better. Many visitors to the state arrive at Auckland Airport, which in 2005 is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Although officially open since July 1965, interest at the site started much earlier when in 1928 Auckland Aero Club was established on some land rented from Macrae Peacock’s Dairy Farm. Two years later Auckland City Council Works Committee reviewed no less than fourteen sites for a potential airport for the city. Three of these would be described as suitable, the list comprised of Point England in Tamaki, Massey Park Estate in Papakura and the site occupied by the Aero Club at Mangere. The following year the Aero Club opened a residential clubhouse on the site.

On 16 October 1936 Jean Batten, the legendary Kiwi female pilot landed at the site at the end of her record-breaking 11 day 45 min solo flight from England to New Zealand and is greeted by a crowd of 8000 people. Such was the interest in aviation at this time that it was inevitable that Mangere would become the official airport for Auckland and as such became a reality in 1937. During the war years Mangere was taken over by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, with civil operations (under the control of the Air Force) operating from Whenuapai airfield. In the immediate postwar period, confusion reigned as to the future of both airfields. The Auckland City Council wanted to expand and modernise Whenuapai airfield into an international airport, unfortunately when the British saw the site, surrounded on all sides by high mountains they vetoed the idea. It would take until September 1955 when Mangere was once again selected to be the International Airport for Auckland. Mangere is located near to Mount Mangere, which according to local folklore resembles a man reclining. In Maori Mengere means ‘lazy’. Nothing of the sort could have been applied to the preparations made for the airport, thousands of documents and plans were produced. The scale of the project meant that the National Government became involved and oversaw the construction costs which were initially estimated to be around 3 million (1955 prices). Air New Zealand would also use the new airport as their headquarters, whilst numerous other airlines expressed interest in operating routes to Auckland. These included Pan Am, Qantus, Canadian Pacific Airlines and BOAC.

A further five years would elapse before agreement was reached over funding the massive engineering project in October 1960. Construction of the airport was a complicated affair, due in large part to the unique geography of the area. 160 acres of Manukaua Harbour had to be reclaimed to avoid using up valuable farmland. 6.2 million cubic yards of rock and volcanic scoria was dumped into the sea from an extinct volcano on a nearby island called Pukitutu. Five long years later and at a cost of 20 million the airport was complete. The first jet airliner to land at Auckland International was appropriately enough a DC8 of Air New Zealand on 20 July 1965. The first international arrival on 23 November and the first true commercial arrival was a Qantus Boeing 707 on 24 November from Sydney.

To mark the official opening of the airport a three-day pageant was arranged for January 29 1966. By the end of its first twelve months in operation Auckland International Airport had handed three quarters of a million people and over 8,300 tonnes of freight.

The 1970’s saw steady and progressive growth both in the numbers of passengers and in the infrastructure of the airport, new longer runways were installed in 1973 and the new international terminal complex was completed in 1977. This building is still the largest public building in the whole of New Zealand and cost some 20 million, the same as the original cost of completing the airport ten years earlier.

In 1988 the airport was transferred from local government control to the newly incorporated Auckland International Airport Limited (AIAL) and two years later the company announced major and radical plans for the airport. Central to their policy was that Auckland; would be transformed into the airline and freight hub of the South West Pacific. Expensive plans were proposed to provide a second runway, international class hotels, a retail shopping center and purpose-designed buildings and hangers for airlines to use as regional headquarters.

Such was the prosperity of Auckland International that by 1991 in the airports 25th year of operations, 5 million people had used the airport and more than 145,000 tonnes of freight had passed through. Two years later the first phase of an ambitious program of improvements to the terminal building was completed adding an extra four gates bringing the total to ten. In 1994 the second phase of the redevelopment was started and would take four years to complete. 180 million was lavished on the complex to give it a new and spacious appearance. Finally in 2001 the International Terminal was again expanded to cope with an increased demand.

Today Auckland and the whole of New Zealand is a thriving economy and in not small part to the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy bringing tourists flocking to the island nation. Auckland International continues to expand and adapt to the changing climate and has done a great deal to improve internal security measures in the face of terrorist threats in the wider South Pacific region most notably in the Philippines.