Christchurch International Airport

Christchurch International Airport

Christchurch Airport Christchurch Airport Christchurch Airport Christchurch Airport

Christchurch International Airport (1955-60)

New Zealand enters the jet age

It took a long time for commercial aviation to conquer New Zealand’s isolation. The first long-distance seaplanes made much-publicised visits in the late 1930s and until the 1950s our international airports were really seaports, with Solent flying boats roaring in and out of the major ports’ more sheltered stretches. That changed with the big long-haul landplanes, the propeller-driven Constellation and then the jets, from 1963 the de Havilland Comet and from 1965 the Boeing 707, Douglas DC8 and Vickers VC10.

These planes forced the pace of airport development. Auckland’s Mangere (1965) was the big one, but Christchurch’s Harewood, initially developed in the late 1930s, took off first. It became an international airport in 1950, three years before it hosted the epic Coronation Year Great London to Christchurch Air Race. The Christchurch International Airport now handles about 121,000 aircraft movements carrying 5½ million passengers each year. Hardly anyone travels by sea for business any more, though pleasure-seeking by cruise ships is taking off.

Until quite recently you could see, almost buried by those later extensions, Paul Pascoe’s modernist control tower, with its long, curved façade and folded and cantilevered canopy. Its clean lines harked back to the dawn of the mass-travel era, when British long-range jets competed with American and when the privileged few dressed up for their flights. It has gone the way of the Constellation and the Comet. Between 2009 and 2013 the airport bowled the ‘old’ domestic terminal to replace it with something more in keeping with the recently enlarged international terminal. Airports are like that, showpieces for regional economies desperate to grab tourist dollars and appear more business-friendly than the city down the road.

Further information

This site is item number 97 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.


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