Boult bags hilltop airport idea

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Christchurch Inter­nat­ional Airport’s boss is adamant that a big-jet airport on Queens­­town Hill isn’t a flyer. 

Jim Boult says the idea – floated most recently by prominent local investor Sir Eion Edgar – faces huge operational hurdles and a questionable business case. 

Edgar, commenting to Mountain Scene last month, favours relocating the resort’s airport from its restricted Frankton Flats site to the top of Queenstown Hill to allow wide-bodied jets to land. 

Boult – a long-time Queens­towner – says the height of Queens­town Hill means an airport that would be in fog and cloud for large periods of the year, particularly in winter. 

Despite improved navigational aids, pilots on landing still need to sight the ground at a certain level above the runway, he says. 

“The cloud will make this challenging.” 

A potential Queenstown Hill runway’s orientation means it would be affected by cross-winds more than Frankton and at much higher speeds due to altitude, Boult claims. 

Snow would lie longer on Queenstown Hill and cause additional flight cancellations and disruptions, he warns, and there’d be an economic and environmental cost to using de-icing chemicals. 

Boult adds: “There is the added issue of snow and ice on the access road to the airport.” 

Edgar did suggest a gondola could transport passengers. 

Boult also says enormous earthworks would be required, not helped by a slope from one end of the proposed site to the other. 

“You also have to remember that Christchurch Airport services a large local population and that produces, year-round, two long-haul services a day, and that includes a very large amount of freight that goes out on those aircraft. 

“I’d question whether you’d see the business case for [Queenstown Hill].” 

Boult maintains Queenstown will continue to be dependent on Christchurch as the only South Island airport able to handle long-haul jets. 

“Despite the growth of Queenstown, 85 per cent of the international arrivals into the South Island come through Christchurch Airport. 

“To a very large extent, Christchurch Airport is almost more important to Queenstown than Queenstown Airport.” 

Annual passenger numbers through the airport had dropped from six million to five-and-a-half million follow­ing the quakes, Boult says. 

“That’s still a lot of people, and it’s still a lot of tourists who are getting into a campervan, a rental car or coach, or a domestic flight, and coming down to Queens­town.”scoop@scene.co.nz