Wellington Airport has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a giant Chinese construction firm to work as a partner on the proposed extension to its runway.
On Sunday, airport representatives signed the MOU in Beijing with China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) and airline, China Express.
The document sets out an agreement for the parties to work together on the airport runway extension and develop the area, such as building hotels.
Wellington City Council Chief Executive Kevin Lavery and Wellington Mayor Justin Lester are in China on a mayoral trade mission.
As an airport shareholder, they witnessed the agreement and helped negotiate the deal.
Before the signing, Lester told the Chinese delegation, Wellington was ranked the most liveable city in the world, was one of the best environmental performers but it had one big problem: "Our front door to the world is closed because we don't have a truly international airport."
There is also a commitment to marketing Wellington to Chinese government agencies in order to grow tourism in the capital city.
It was applauded by Matt Clarke, Wellington Airport Chief Commercial Officer, who called it a significant opportunity for New Zealand’s capital.
"We recognise the huge potential of the Chinese visitor market and have been working for several years on expanding our networks in mainland China and building relationships to promote Wellington as a destination.
"The signing of the Memorandums is a significant symbolic step."
CSCEC brought expertise to the field of reclamation and would work on the airport runway extension as it unfolded, Clarke said.
“The MOU says we will work with CSCEC on the project as a partner but the selection of any final main contractor will be decided later," Clarke said.
China Express is a regional airline that fed hub carriers and had global ambitions to expand and would be working with the airport on new air routes to Wellington, he said.
The airport stressed in a statement that this is not a final process: the matter still needs to win resource consent at the Environment Court.
There would also need to be what it calls a robust competitive tender to win the contract to do the work.
The statement does not mention two other hiccups: the need to win enough money to pay for the work and the need to win a court case brought by the Airline Pilots Association on safety grounds.
A resource consent application was placed on hold after the Court of Appeal ordered the Civic Aviation Authority to review its assessment of Wellington Airport's safety area.
The court case rests on the provision of 90m at the end of the runway as a safety area - the legal minimum.
The majority of accidents happen on take-off and landing, and safety areas minimise the danger of missing the runway.
The Airline Pilots' Association argues the safety area must extend to 240m if practicable.
A ruling from the Supreme Court on the Airline Pilots Association case is not expected until next year.