Tokelau resumes search for airport site

WELLINGTON, (RNZ PACIFIC) – Tokelau is once again trying to kickstart plans for a commercial air service to the atolls.

Previous plans for airstrips extend as far back as 1984 and since then they have frequently been resumed and then abandoned.

In June, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters wrote to Eva Schaumkel, a former Tokelau public servant, who is lobbying New Zealand to support air services.

The letter, seen by RNZ Pacific, said Tokelau’s government was identifying a location for an airstrip for a commercial air service.

Peters also said New Zealand was willing to consider assisting Tokelau with a business case for investment.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said a location for the site had not been confirmed yet.

Tokelau’s most recent bid for air services in 2016 was controversially stymied when helicopters were bought without proper approval and then sold off.

There have been 10 surveys conducted for airstrips in the past 30 years, according to Heto Puka, a former finance director in Tokelau’s government.

Puka was fired in December for his role in the helicopter purchases, which were to facilitate the construction of airstrips on Tokelau.

RNZ Pacific has obtained copies of three studies since 2010, when Auckland-based Eagle-i Airline Planning, which is now trading as Greenstone, estimated a total cost of almost NZ$21 million (US$14.2 million) for an airstrip on any of the three atolls.

A 2014 feasibility study by Apia-based Isikuki Punivalu & Associates found a much cheaper result, with an airport development on the Fakaofo atoll estimated atNZ$2.8m (US$1.9 million)

Another study in 2015 by Apia-based KVA Consult scoped out locations on all three atolls and costs for commercial flights with an airstrip on Fakaofo estimated to cost NZ$4.3m (US$2.9 million).

It is unclear whether another feasability study will be commissioned for the Tokelau government’s latest efforts.

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