Airport plan grounded: Where to now?

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Queenstown Airport has put its growth plans on hold after a jet-blast of protest but moves to schedule more services into Wanaka are also likely to meet opposition.

Nearly 1500 people and 19 groups had their say on the proposal to expand noise boundaries to enable the airport to almost double the number of flights over the next three decades.

Only 4 per cent of those supported the plans and yesterday Queenstown Airport Corporation chief executive Colin Keel said the airport had listened.

It will now focus on its Wanaka Airport masterplan and a dual-airport approach – QAC was granted a $14.5million 100-year lease on Wanaka Airport by the Queenstown Lakes District Council earlier this year.

”In the feedback, it became clear people wanted a holistic picture of what we had planned for Queenstown and Wanaka,” Keel said.

”Ultimately it’s about creating a sustainable platform for long-term growth of air services to the region and balancing that against the effect on the communities.”

However, the announcement has not gone down well with some in Wanaka.

Tourism Wanaka chairman Mark Morrison said his organisation wanted a ”thriving tourism community”.

”But there’s no point in having that thriving tourism market if the host community’s not on board with that.

”If we are going to have seven million passenger movements through Wanaka Airport then there’s every chance that host community won’t be very happy.”

Luggate Community Association chairman Graeme Perkins echoed Morrison’s concerns yesterday and said he was worried Wanaka would now be ”in line for Queenstown’s overcrowding, traffic, noise and infrastructure problems through over-tourism”.

Accepting there would be benefits for Wanaka people being able to fly direct to elsewhere, he believed developing the airport opened up a ”can of worms” for a region already ”maxed out with tourists”.

”The main worry for Luggate is that we are right under the entry flight path – a big jet every half hour eventually? Please, no.”

Keel said QAC was also pausing to allow a wider discussion about growth to take place in the district.

”The consultation has prompted a number of conversations,” he said.

”It started with noise boundaries but quite quickly moved into a different space.

”We recognised that and are mindful we shouldn’t be leading those broader discussions on growth.”

The noise boundaries consultation had effectively become a lightning rod for the residents and various groups’ anger about the problems caused by unbridled growth.

Keel said QAC wanted to allow other work – particularly by its 75.01% shareholder QLDC – to advance, so QAC could be guided by it.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said a provisional plan detailing how the district and its airports could deal with booming tourist numbers could be on the table by April next year.

”I’ve said in the past myself I don’t think carrying on growing at the rate we’ve been growing is a sustainable model.”

The council would look at mechanisms for a level ratepayers were comfortable with.

”I get quite a lot of feedback from Wanaka, some people saying they don’t want any flights, other people who’ve said to me they hope they see Dreamliners [Boeing 787], so we have to take all that into consideration.”

Keel said QAC did not plan to be in a position where it could not meet demand.

The present boundaries allow for 21,000 scheduled aircraft movements each year. Demand is forecast to outstrip that in three to four years.

The expansion would enable 41,600 flights to land in the resort by 2045, and double passenger numbers to 5.1 million.

But it would affect 3000 homes, four schools and Lakes District Hospital, Kelvin Heights, Lake Hayes Estate, Shotover Country and Frankton Rd.

As the regulator, QLDC would have to approve any proposal by QAC to extend its noise boundaries.

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz

-Additionally reported by Mark Price