Auckland Airport celebrates 50 years

29 January 2016

Today, 29 January 2016, Auckland Airport celebrates the 50th anniversary of its official opening.

Adrian Littlewood, Auckland Airport’s chief executive, says, “50 years is a long time and an important milestone worthy of celebration.”

“New Zealand was very different back in 1966. It was a country still finding its own independence, shifting its primary focus away from Europe. Keith Holyoake was Prime Minister; we still had pounds, shillings and pence; we had visits by both the United States’ Vice-President and President in the same year and for followers of popular culture, the very first episode of Country Calendar screened.”

“On the 29th January 1966, there was a three day air pageant to commemorate the official opening of Auckland Airport, attended by more than 100,000 Aucklanders or 20% of our city’s residents. The airport’s official opening marked the start of the international jet age for New Zealanders – with new destinations and faster and bigger aircraft. However, the opening was not without its own challenges – it had taken almost 25 years and countless studies, reviews, funding debates and much political discussion before a decision was made to locate New Zealand’s international airport in Mangere. For a period options for a new airport even considered the Orakei foreshore, Devonport, Glenn Innes and even Brown’s Island in the Waitemata Harbour.”

“In the 50 years following its official opening, Auckland Airport has played a key role in connecting New Zealanders with the rest of the world and as our country and city have grown and changed, so have we. We’re no longer just a place for travel, but one of New Zealand’s largest companies playing an active role in helping drive growth in travel, trade and tourism for New Zealand. Auckland Airport itself is now a hub of economic growth, home to hundreds of local and global businesses where 30,000 people come to work every day.”

“Operating Auckland Airport is a team effort. I want to acknowledge our 24 airline partners, in particular Air New Zealand and The Qantas Group who were here on day one in 1966. I also want to acknowledge both central and local government, for the role they have played in the inception and development of the airport, as well as the contributions of the many government agencies, ground handlers, retailers and property tenants – they are all an integral part of Auckland Airport. Lastly, I need to thank our staff, both past and present, for their hard work and commitment over 50 years.”

“As Auckland Airport looks to its next 50 years, we can be proud of our past and confident in our future. We have grown from 700,000 passengers in 1966 to 16 million this year and while there will always be challenges along the way, we can continue to accommodate passenger growth here into the foreseeable future. Indeed, our 30-year vision for the airport of the future, announced in 2014, suggests we have the capacity to process 40 million passengers in 2044 with room to continue growing.”

“Whatever our future holds, we will be guided by our past experience and the importance of both remaining flexible to meet the ever changing needs of our city, our customers and the aviation industry.” says Mr Littlewood.

More information about Auckland Airport’s 50th anniversary is available online at


Available for media use:

  • a 2.58 minute video celebrating Auckland Airport’s 50 years

Simon Lambourne
+64 27 477 6120
[email protected]

Additional historical information for use by media:

  • 88 years ago, in 1928, the Auckland Aero Club was established in Mangere, where the Air NZ engineering hangar is now located. They had 2 loaned DH Gipsy Moth aeroplanes - a third Moth was donated by the publishers of The New Zealand Herald.

  • Commercial aviation began in Mangere 79 years ago, in 1937, with an Auckland-Wellington Union Airways flight.

  • In 1951 the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and City Council established a joint International Airport Committee to investigate the necessity of providing a new international airport for New Zealand at Auckland, although this was followed by years of inaction.

  • The catalyst for a meaningful debate was a very limited circulation 1955 New Zealand engineering journal on the issues associated with the siting of a combined domestic and international airport in Auckland. The article assessed and dismissed 11 sites: Whenuapai; North Shore; Orakei; Brown’s Island; Tamaki Estuary; Glen Innes; Mt Wellington; Pakuranga/East Tamaki; Wiri; Karaka Point; and lastly Wiroa Island/Mangere.

  • In 1955, the Government subsequently confirmed that Mangere would be the location.

  • Frank Ponder, a Ministry of Works sectional architect appointed to design the airport in detail, raised a personal loan to part fund his overseas study tour, where he had a sneak preview of the first Boeing 747 jumbo jets and realised the implications of these flying giants on the airport’s design – and subsequently struggled to convince politicians that the 747’s arrival was a reality (the first one – a Qantas 747-200B arrived in 1972).

  • Construction began in 1960 – excavations for the main runway alone involved more than 5 million cubic metres of earth.

  • The first day of operations at the new Auckland International Airport was on 24 November 1965, when the official inaugural passenger jet flight, an Air NZ DC-8, left for Sydney at 9.15am with 129 passengers (an NAC DC-3 freighter had left for Wellington at 7am, the first scheduled departure flight). The first official jet arrival was that afternoon – a Qantas Boeing 707 from Sydney (although a chartered amphibian aircraft was the first commercial flight arrival that morning).

  • At 12.30pm on 29 January 1966 Auckland International Airport was officially opened by the Governor-General, Brigadier Sir Bernard Fergusson. Dignitaries included Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, Government Ministers, local mayors, Government department and military chiefs, airlines and representatives from the major contractors.

  • The official opening was commemorated with a ‘Grand Air Pageant’ over three days, which attracted more than 100,000 Aucklanders and aviation enthusiasts, keen to see the static and flying displays of military and civilian aircraft from

  • around the world, including air forces from Australia, the UK and the US and a mock battle involving a tank.

  • In its first year of operation, the airport handled over 700,000 passenger movements – the same amount we now handle in two weeks over the Christmas / New Year period.

  • The airport’s 1966 ‘interim terminal’ serviced both domestic and international passengers, and did so for more than a decade, when the new international terminal was eventually opened in December 1977 by Prime Minister Rob Muldoon.

  • A lesson to always be ready for the future: In 1972 Auckland Airport missed out on a visit by Concorde (4 years before its first commercial service) because of a 30cm gap between the runway and its extension was yet to be filled.

  • Many of the airport’s roads are named after aviators – for example, George Bolt set many early aviation records and began New Zealand’s first official airmail service.

  • The cost of international air travel in New Zealand has fallen 70% over the last 35 years in real terms (Statistics New Zealand).

  • While the Auckland population has tripled since 1966, international trips have increased forty fold.

  • The average passenger growth rate across both domestic and international passengers is 6.5% (1966: 700,000; 2015: 15,323,030)