Auckland International Airport’s boss is confirming he’ll push for a bigger stake in Queenstown’s valuable aerodrome.
Auckland’s Simon Moutter, chief executive of the country’s biggest airport, says his company “absolutely” wants to push for increased ownership in Queenstown Airport, despite cancelling an option to buy more shares three months ago.
“Yes, in the course of time we’d like to have a larger stake – it just demonstrates our commitment to the business,” Moutter tells Mountain Scene in Queenstown last week, during his first in-depth interview on the buy-in controversy.
In March, AIAL pulled out of the second stage of its Queenstown Airport share purchase. That would have enabled Auckland to boost its stake from an existing 24.99 per cent to 35 per cent.
“I get that the shareholding was very controversial, but we needed to make it worth our while to over-invest in the market and Queenstown Airport Corporation needed the equity to manage the risks in their business,” Moutter says.
“We haven’t been able to achieve the 35 per cent, but we’re not embarrassed about that.”
Moutter won’t comment on how much more AIAL wants – “We’ll just see how that plays out”.
He insists approval from the Wakatipu community and council will be sought beforehand.
Mayor Vanessa van Uden says there’s “nothing on the table” at the moment, adding “at this point in time I see no need for us to be looking at any other shareholding”.
Moutter’s confirmation comes three weeks after Air New Zealand and a group of vocal Queenstown businessmen withdrew legal action against AIAL, QAC, its majority shareholder Queenstown Lakes District Council and QAC directors.
AIAL was never worried about losing the court case because the company sought “the highest level” of legal advice before giving QAC $27.7 million for its stake, he says.
“We were completely unconcerned about being in court and winning,” Moutter says.
“But we did respect the community didn’t want to spend the money so we were active in the dialogue after Christmas, working with the other parties to see if we could avoid a costly process.”
It’s “high time” for a dividend to be issued to the local community, he says.
The Wakatipu is expected to receive a $1.5m-plus pay-out from next year.
“The yields airlines make on these routes are fantastic – they’re probably the most profitable on the Tasman and in NZ and it’s entirely reasonable that the airport company should get a fair return.”
Moutter – whose company has recently pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into overseas marketing campaigns to entice visitors to Queenstown – adds the new arrival of China Southern Airlines to Auckland was influenced by the strategic alliance.
“There’s no question that the link between Auckland and Queenstown Airport companies working together achieved that.”