Flood damage at Auckland airport halts international flights

NEW ZEALAND’S biggest airport delayed the reopening of its international terminal Saturday because “critical components” of the infrastructure were damaged by severe flooding after a sudden summer storm.

Auckland Airport reported a record 249 mm (9.8 inches) of rain in 24 hours, forcing the international and domestic terminals to halt flights on Friday afternoon. While local services have resumed, no international departures are likely to take place before 5 a.m. local time Sunday and arrivals will be delayed until 7 a.m.

“Certainly the airport has never been tested in this way before,” said Carrie Hurihanganui, chief executive officer at Auckland Airport. “Our assessment is we need more time to make sure it is all working well and more importantly, safely, before we resume international operations.”

The storm that hit Auckland Friday and Saturday left the city inundated after a record amount of rain fell in 24 hours. At least three people were killed.

Air New Zealand said it’s unable to resume international flights from Auckland until 12 p.m. Sunday because of significant damage to ticketing, baggage and processing equipment.

“We know from midday that airport and airline operations will be back up and running, and we’ll be restarting with around three flights an hour as we ease into it,” Air New Zealand Chief Operational Integrity and Safety Officer David Morgan said. “For context, we usually operate around 13 baggage belts, but with the damage we could be down to as few as three.”

Hurihanganui apologized for the “extraordinary disruption and discomfort” suffered by at least 2,000 travelers who were left stranded in the airport’s flooded buildings until the early hours of Saturday after the storm struck late Friday. 

Some passengers who had already boarded a plane when the storm struck remained on the grounded aircraft for hours.

On Saturday, 100 of 171 departing flights were listed as canceled on FlightRadar and 93 of 191 arrivals were scrapped.

Some 40 flights were diverted to Christchurch from Auckland Friday and Saturday, including Air New Zealand services from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver.

Crew and passengers on Air Canada and Emirates flights to Auckland on Friday were turned back to Dubai and Vancouver respectively — most likely due to the weather situation in New Zealand’s commercial capital. –BLOOMBERG