The February 2011 earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 181 people and caused widespread damage across the city, bringing down buildings, rupturing power lines and cutting off water supplies.

Aviation infrastructure provided a vital lifeline for the community and those involved in the rescue attempts. After carrying out checks on its runway to ensure there was no structural damage, Christchurch Airport quickly became the main conduit of search and rescue support from around the world. The airport also played a longer-term role in helping to get the city back on its feet, with the airport providing space for local businesses to re-start operations. Even as many Christchurch Airport staff themselves were personally impacted by the earthquake, they set up support desks in the airport terminal and brought USA and Australian embassy staff to assist with lost documentation.

The airport workers found temporary accommodation for stranded passengers and supported special evacuation or delivery flights. In the terminals, funds were raised for national earthquake appeals and the airport’s IT department donated spare equipment to help Christchurch businesses get back on their feet. The airport also set aside a significant sum to work with tourist agencies to attract visitors back to one of New Zealand’s key visitor destinations.

The usual show of solidarity from colleagues in the wider aviation industry resulted in Auckland Airport sending a technical and trade crew to Christchurch Airport to provide relief for airport staff and Air New Zealand offering low airfares for anyone needing to get into or out of the city. In seven days, the airline moved more than 45,000 passengers out of Christchurch and used every jet aircraft type in its fleet to do so, as part of a shuttle service to Auckland.

Since then, the airline has provided hundreds of free flights for individuals and groups wanting to leave Christchurch or to raise funds for the people there. This has included moving dozens of families all across New Zealand and overseas and more than 500 children to Auckland for a “Break from the Quake” as the aftershocks continued.