Auckland Airport’s high price of peace

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Auckland Airport has paid $250,000 to a group of powerful Wakatipu businessmen who opposed Auckland buying into Queenstown’s council-owned airport. 

The businessmen, who formed the Queenstown Community Strategic Assets Group, went to the High Court to kill Auckland’s 24.99 per cent purchase. 

QCSAG and Air New Zealand, which mounted a similar legal challenge, withdrew their lawsuits last month, leaving Auckland with its quarter-share intact. Auckland has cancelled an option to purchase a further 10 per cent. 

Details of the out-of-court settlement have never emerged – until now. Mountain Scene can reveal Auckland paid $250,000 towards QCSAG’s legal bill – understood to be less than half the group’s actual costs. 

QCSAG’s 10 founding members include former mayors John Davies and Warren Cooper, former Skyline chairman Barry Thomas, and prominent developers John Martin, John Darby and Alastair Porter. 

A source says QCSAG also “exerted pressure” on Queenstown Lakes District Council to “rebuild trust and confidence” in the local airport board, leading to the council forcing out airport chairman Mark Taylor. 

“Someone had to take responsibility, some accountability for what happened – that naturally was the chairman,” the source says. 

As part of the settlement, council also agreed to review the airport company’s constitution and assets. 

The QCSAG and Air NZ court cases were directed at the council – which racked up more than $400,000 on legal bills before the actions were withdrawn – as well as Queenstown Airport, its directors and Auckland Airport. 

Former Destination Queens-town chairman Mark Quickfall stepped in as an independent broker to get the combatants talking to each other. 

“Mark Quickfall was instrumental in brokering a settlement process – bless his cotton socks,” another source says. 

Quickfall’s initiative resulted in council drafting a settlement agreement – which QCSAG and the airport board said they’d sign. QCSAG began “working on Air NZ” who eventually also agreed. 

That left Auckland Airport – and Auckland wouldn’t sign, a source says. 

Auckland then leaned on Queenstown Airport and the local airport board allegedly reneged and refused to settle. 

“The council couldn’t deliver its own [airport] company into its own settlement,” a source says ruefully. 

Players spoken to by Mountain Scene are also nervous about whether the council – with 75.01 per cent of the resort airport – can control giant Auckland which paid $27.7 million for its 24.99 per cent. 

“Are QLDC strong enough – or are they just going to go back to sleep and let Auckland run the airport?” one asks.