Multi-million-dollar work to prepare for night flights is about to take off at Queenstown Airport.
Airlines are also picking over whether they’ll jump aboard for extended hours from next winter.
Progress on what has been described as a game-changer for the airport comes after the death of airport boss , the driving force behind the move.
In May last year, civil aviation regulators in New Zealand and Australia signed off on the “foundation safety case” for night flights.
That case included agreement from Queenstown’s airport company to make 66 improvements to technology and infrastructure, costing up to $10 million.
Improvements include widening the runway, runway lighting and lights placed on two or three parts of the eastern approach.
Airport board chairman John Gilks says work will start quite soon.
“It’s well into the planning stage.”
The runway-widening decision is imminent, he says - and work’s likely to go ahead over summer.
Gilks foxes on a likely price tag.
“I’ve got a ballpark figure, yes, but I don’t think I can disclose it.
“I’m comfortable to say that, yes, it’s in the many millions.”
Airlines are in a holding pattern - none have confirmed they’ll fly later.
Gilks says the airlines have been working on their plans for the last few months.
He adds: “To the best of my knowledge there are no show-stoppers in any of that work.”
He admits airlines might use extended hours to spread the demand, in the short term. In July, Queenstown airport hit a one-day record for international passenger arrivals - 1585 people, on 11 trans-Tasman flights.
Gilks: “If you go to the airport mid-afternoon – 2.30-3.30pm - it’s very congested, so a lot of these flights can be spread.”
In the long term, he says night flights will provide a significant lift in passenger numbers.
The airport’s passenger numbers hit a record 155,668 in August, up 13.1 per cent on last year.
And with record numbers came a record profit - the company made an after-tax haul of $8.3m in the last financial year.
The airport has also been spending big on infrastructure.
Its $17m international terminal upgrade opened in June. Gilks says the airport plans to use the former Wakatipu Aero Club site for carparking. “We desperately need additional carparking - there are frequent times now when the carpark is full.”