Celebrating 60 years at Wellington Airport

25 Oct 2019

Photo of Wellington Airport in the 1970s

Sixty years ago, Wellington Airport opened on its present site with thousands of spectators there to witness the event. It was fitting the city chose Rongotai for the location of the airport, as one of New Zealand’s first flights occurred almost fifty years earlier in nearby Lyall Bay.

The construction of the airport was a mammoth undertaking with three million cubic metres of earth and rock shifted and significant land reclamation. The vision to create an airport in close proximity to the city and connecting Wellington to the world was certainly ambitious.

The very first terminal was a converted aircraft hanger, affectionally known as the ‘tin shed’. The corrugated iron building was planned as a 5-year temporary fix but held on for 40 years, with a few add-ons and improvements along the way before the new terminal opened in 1999. Since then the airport has grown and evolved to become one of the country’s busiest and most popular hubs. Building upon our founders’ original vision has required courage, foresight and a robust plan.

There has been significant capital investment in the airport to accommodate the growth in travellers over the years including world-class terminal re-developments and expansions, airfield technology and safety advances including the world’s first automated airbridge, the country’s first fully integrated airport hotel and a number of runway extensions.

The last major runway extension, which occurred in 1972, enabled direct jet services to Australia and significantly enhanced Wellington’s connectivity. There was plenty of debate at the time as to whether Wellington really needed jet aircraft. Today, we have over 70 international flights a week to six destinations. Wellington would be a different place today without that development and those connections. In 1999 around 9,500 travellers came through the airport and that number now reaches up to 22,000 on busy days.

In the last twenty years Wellington Airport has developed a number of significant and award-winning facilities including the ‘Rock’ international terminal, domestic terminal expansion, multi-level transport hub and the Rydges Hotel.

Wellington Airport now welcomes 6.4 million passengers every year and makes an economic contribution of $2.3 billion towards the region, supporting 11,000 jobs. The region has better connectivity to the world than ever before but there is still room for improvement.