Stuart Ainslie, HB Airport chief executive, will be leaving at the start of December to take a major overseas role. But he’s leaving behind an outstanding gift to Hawke’s Bay in the form of a redesigned airport the region can be proud of.

Today I spent an inspiring hour with Stuart walking through the airport, learning the design features from the proud father – from the most obvious, like 5-star toilets (only missing the attendant handing out warm towels, but maybe that’s a Covid thing) and Jacob Scott-designed wall and ceiling carved wood panels to small touches like café seat backs reminiscent of aircraft seats and wall-mounted inspiring relevant quotes from Lindbergh and da Vinci.

Soon many more airports — larger and smaller than ours — will benefit from his vision and touch.

Our design chat was interspersed with his reassurances about the durability of the sustainability commitments that will continue at the airport after his final flight takes off … “they’re embedded in the business”.

Architectural designer and artist Jacob Scott has been deeply involved from a cultural perspective with the airport’s entire redevelopment; I asked him to comment:

“Stuart’s a breath of fresh air. He gets it. He has a different set of values.

“I’ve experienced his vision and implementation of a triple bottom line approach valuing people, planet & prosperity with a focus on sustainability. He gets what culture is and sees the possibilities.

“He’s helped to set up that place as a waharoa not only to the region but also as an example of how things can be done. He’s enabled the activation for a partnership with Mana Whenua and matauranga Maori as a catalyst for positive change.

“He’s a rare one.”

With his departure, our region is losing one of its most able and progressive executives.

In our forthcoming Nov/Dec BayBuzz magazine, we describe the commitments HB Airport has made with respect to future sustainability, and especially responding to climate change.

Stuart has driven those commitments and hopefully the Airport Board will ensure that his successor is equally passionate about this fundamental aspect of the job.

Says HB Airport chair Wendie Harvey: “Not only has he set the airport on a positive trajectory, but Stuart has also rolled up his sleeves up and participated in the region – particularly showing leadership in the sustainability space.”

Sustainability of airport operations has been BayBuzz’s chief interest in tracking the airport’s progress, but Stuart’s achievements have been much broader, as indicated by the airport chair’s announcement:

  • attraction of a second airline, Originair; 
  • development of HB Airport’s redeveloped airport terminal; 
  • completion of a 20-year master plan; 
  • retention of air traffic control services during a national Airways review;
  • implementation of a decarbonisation plan, which includes a commitment to HBAL being carbon neutral by 2030 and the Attaining Level 2 of the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme; 
  • completion of a feasibility study into a 24.2 MW solar farm;
  • launch of business park, Ahuriri Aeropark, located within the airport precinct; and,
  • forged stronger relationships between HBAL and its shareholders, partners and stakeholders, in particular mana whenua. 

Not bad for four years on the job, punctuated by Covid lockdowns!

Chairman Harvey comments: “It’s extraordinary what he’s navigated the Airport through. And despite all of that, he’s doggedly kept his eye on the horizon, building the airport’s resilience for the future. He leaves a great foundation for the next chief executive to build from.”

Amen … We’ll be watching that hire!

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