"Air traffic controllers still up there", says earthquake-hit Christchurch airport

By danwarne, February 22 2011

Update: Thursday 24 February

New Zealand Air Traffic Control organisation Airways NZ has contacted Australian Business Traveller with information regarding New Zealand's air traffic control centre at Christchurch on 22 February. 

A spokeswoman confirmed that "Christchurch Tower remained operational throughout", correcting information that had come direct from Christchurch Airport representatives after Tuesday's earthquake.

The airport was not authorised by Airways NZ to speak for the structure of the tower, the spokeswoman said.

Airways NZ confirmed that the Christchurch radar centre (which controls most NZ air traffic) was out of operation for approximately 90 minutes.

Operations were transferred to Auckland and pilots took the standard step "to take control of their own situation and speak/communicate directly with each other to maintain safe separation", according to the spokeswoman.

Original story

Christchurch Airport says its air traffic control tower swayed vigorously in this morning's earthquake, but did not sustain damage.

"Our air traffic control tower is unbelievable - it's designed to withstand category eight or nine earthquakes," said Monique Oomen, Christchurch Airport spokesperson.

"Its foundations go down one and a half stories into the ground. It will sway in an earthquake but not fall over," she said.

"In fact, the air traffic controllers are still up there -- they've chosen not to leave."

"We've just cleared the runways for medical flights and medical evacuations -- Christchurch Hospital has been evacuated so there are a lot of emergency flights that need to go out."

"At this stage the airport is closed for all commercial flights until further notice. There is minor damage to the terminal, but the airport is very likely to reopen tomorrow. We had a category seven earthquake recently and we were open again nine hours later."

Airways NZ (New Zealand's air traffic control organisation) could not be reached for comment, with its phone lines playing a recorded messages saying their offices were unattended.

Further updates

Read more comprehensive coverage of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, plus authoritative advice for travellers in the area and overseas.

Further updates will be posted at ausbt.com.au and on our @AusBT Twitter stream.

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