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Pie in the sky?: A Queenstown lobby group believes Ladies Mile can accommodate a C-130 Hercules in the event of a major disaster

By MATTHEW MCKEW

Hercules military aircraft can land on Ladies Mile highway in times of emergency, campaigners for the closure of Queenstown Airport say.

FlightPlan2050 is urging City Hall to include a setback from the state highway in the masterplan for Ladies Mile, to allow large military planes to bring in supplies after major disasters, like a massive earthquake.

The group is fully behind a new international airport at Tarras and believes Queenstown Airport should make way for a new ‘‘alpine city’’ at Frankton.

Council-paid consultants are due to begin work on a masterplan for Ladies Mile that will most likely pave the way for a new housing subdivision.

John Hilhorst, of FlightPlan2050, says simple engineering solutions and emergency planning will allow the 1.9-kilometre stretch of Ladies Mile, from Queenstown Country Club to the edge of Lake Hayes, to provide a landing strip in times of disaster.

Under the campaign group’s plans, both Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules and the Royal Australian Air Force C-17s will be able to land on the road.

Hilhorst says it only requires ‘‘pretty simple’’ modifications to existing and proposed roundabouts and traffic lights on the highway.

‘‘The roundabouts you install sit on skid pads and are made like pizzas, in slices.

‘‘Each slice is small enough that you can hitch them to a normal-sized vehicle and tow the [roundabout section] to the side.’’

Meantime, traffic lights will fold down on hinges and the trees — which have already had one stay of execution when the council wanted to fell them to protect powerlines — will be replaced by new ones at the edge of the setback.

‘‘The C-17 can turn on a dime,’’ Hilhorst says, adding an existing carpark by Queenstown Country Club will provide room for trucks to unload the planes.

He says countries like Singapore, Norway, Australia and Germany all use roads for emergency situations.

Singapore did test Lim Chu Kang Road in 2016 for fighter jets — it took 48 hours and more than 100 people to prepare the road. Germany’s A44 autobahn doubles as a wartime runway, having been modified during the Cold War.

Hilhorst says there’s plenty of time to evacuate the Ladies Mile area before a plane lands, while access to Queenstown remains open through other routes.

Should Shotover Bridge be damaged, Hilhorst says trucks can drive straight across the river to deliver flown-in supplies.

‘‘If you have got a flood there, you have got a problem, but the gravel people put their trucks right through there.’’

In addition, FlightPlan2050 proposes an airstrip on Queenstown Hill — dismissed before in part due to cost.

But Hilhorst says it could easily be funded through the sale of existing airport land.

Although this long-mooted idea has been dismissed before because of cost and fog, he says the expense would easily be recouped through the sale of land at the existing airport.

His group believes selling the Frankton site will accrue $2.1 billion.

matthew.mckew@scene.co.nz