'It makes sense': Queenstown Airport CEO Glen Sowry

Having recently completed more than two decades in CEO and executive roles, I had planned to spend several weeks in Queenstown unwinding this winter, enjoying skiing, biking and everything else that draws people to this stunning part of the world.

The opportunity to join the airport company as the new chief executive was initially a bit left-field, but quickly developed into an interesting idea I embraced and became very  enthusiastic about.

Having been appointed to the role, I quickly learned Queenstown Airport is an entity local
residents feel very passionately about.

That was borne out when, still on holiday, I was approached by numerous people in the community — including some who even recognised me beneath my ski helmet up on the skifield — who were keen to share their views on the airports.

The fact people are engaged and passionate about their airport is fantastic.

People give a damn, which is a lot better than the alternative.

It’s clear to me that we have some work to do to re-establish and grow what I call our  ‘social licence’ with all of the communities we serve.

I’m acutely aware of the pushback from many in the local community to Queenstown  Airport Corporation proposals it tested publicly to significantly increase aircraft movements and associated noise levels.

That message was received.

The word that keeps springing to mind for me in this debate is ‘balance’.

Appropriately, one of our organisation’s values is ‘keep the balance’.

An interesting statistic hadn’t appreciated, before I started with the airport, is in a typical year only about 30% of visitors arrive at Queenstown through the airport.

The other 70% come to Queenstown by road.

Arguably the visitors arriving by air are among the highest value to the local business  community.

Queenstown Airport is, and will continue to be, an important gateway to enable residents to
connect with New Zealand and the world, and visitors to experience the best our country has to offer.

I firmly believe Queenstown Airport’s greatest attribute and strategic value is its central location close to downtown Queenstown, and all of its major population areas, and  residents and visitors alike can access the airport within relatively-short distances, which makes connecting people incredibly convenient.

There are similar parallels with Wellington Airport, which is close to the city and residential
populations, and is highly appreciated and valued by its community.

I’m aware that some believe the airport should be moved out side of the Whakatipu, to a
location over an hour away.

It won’t come as a surprise to hear I strongly disagree with that idea.

In addition to Queenstown Airport’s primary role of facilitating scheduled airline services
and general aviation operations, the airport would have a critical role to play in the event of a major natural disaster, especially a large earthquake.

The Whakatipu is connected by three major roads, all of which would be vulnerable in a major earthquake.

In this event, Queenstown Airport would be central to the civil defence response to  maintain connections and facilitate emergency services and people movement in and out of the district.

The risk of not having this capability and connection would, in my opinion, be untenable.

The responsibility of leading QAC with balance and openness is something I take very seriously.

My performance and legacy in this role will be shaped by how well we earn the right to operate and create value, both social and economic, for the district and the people we serve and connect.

The ultimate measure of our success will be the pride people have in their airport.

I am determined that we operate in a way that pride and the sense of ownership is strengthened.

I’m looking forward to working with shareholders, residents, customers and the business community to achieve that.

Glen Sowry is Queenstown Airport Corporation’s new chief executive