New Zealand airspace update: flights diverted, cancelled

By John Walton, February 22 2011
New Zealand airspace update: flights diverted, cancelled

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Update: Thursday 24 February

New Zealand Air Traffic Control organisation Airways NZ has contacted Australian Business Traveller with information regarding New Zealand's airspace on 22 February. 

A spokeswoman confirmed that "airspace was not closed at any time", contradicting widely reported information direct from airport and airline representatives after Tuesday's earthquake.

Pilots "transitioned to TIBA procedures...effectively pilots have to take control of their own situation and speak/communicate directly with each other to maintain safe separation" between aircraft, the representative continued. All flights landed safely and without further incident.


Air New Zealand has reported that airspace across the country is open, with flights operating into airports apart from Christchurch. The airline has cancelled all flights into Christchurch until 8am Wednesday at the very earliest, when domestic flights may resume.

There is no news yet about when international flights will start up again. Air Force transports from Australia are en route with help for the stricken Canterbury region.

Our reporter on the ground in Wellington can confirm that New Zealand airspace is currently open, with domestic and international flights into all airports but Christchurch departing and arriving. 

Departures boards for Wellington and Auckland airports are showing numerous delays and cancellations across the entire country. 

A spokeswoman from Christchurch Airport earlier reported that the 4-metre deep runway was being inspected for damage. Reports that the air traffic control tower had collapsed were confirmed as false.

Australian Business Traveller attempted to reach Airways NZ, the national air traffic control organisation, at 1500 NZ time, to receive a recorded message saying that the Airways NZ offices are unattended.

Incredibly, we have direct confirmation that an Air New Zealand flight from Hamilton landed as the earthquake hit


All airports and airspace in New Zealand have been shut down following a huge 6.3 magnitude earthquake 10 km southeast of Christchurch. All flights into, out of and around the country have been put on hold.

Airways NZ, the national Air Traffic Control organisation, is based in Christchurch, and unconfirmed reports are coming in that it has been hit by the earthquake.

An announcement in Wellington Airport has told passengers that all airspace will be closed for up to an hour while the air traffic control tower is examined for damage.

Australian Business Traveller reached a spokeswoman at Wellington Airport, who reported one confirmed diversion from Christchurch coming into Wellington, plus two additional potential incoming diversions. All flights from Wellington to Christchurch have been cancelled.

The Wellington Airport spokeswoman also confirmed observations from our own reporter in Wellington that mobile networks across New Zealand are congested. Despite feeling the effects of the quake, there seems to be little damage as far north as Wellington.

The captain of flight NZ704, which landed at Christchurch Airport just as the earthquake hit, has told passengers that Air Traffic Control cannot be contacted.

A further aftershock of 4.5 magnitude, 20 km southeast of Christchurch, at 1321 local time was reported by the NZ Earthquake Commission's Geonet site, with a further aftershock at 1346 local time. Live reports from Christchurch on Radio New Zealand report aftershocks every few minutes. 

There is extensive damage to buildings throughout Christchurch itself. The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management is experiencing severe load issues, like many flights within New Zealand, so we can reprint the Civil Defence recommendations for those on the ground, :

  • Expect aftershocks. Each time one is felt, drop, cover, and hold on. 
  • Check yourself first for injuries and get first aid if necessary before helping injured or trapped persons.
  • Assess your home or workplace for damage. If the building appears unsafe get everyone out. Use the stairs, not an elevator and when outside, watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines. Stay out of damaged areas. 
  • Look for and extinguish small fires if it is safe to do so. Fire is a significant hazard following earthquakes. 
  • Listen to the radio for updated emergency information and instructions. 
  • Do not overload phone lines with non-emergency calls.
  • Help people who require special assistance - infants, elderly people, those without transportation, families who may need additional help, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.

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 and on our @AusBT Twitter stream.


John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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