City airports snubbed ahead of Auckland’s buy-in of Queenstown

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Christchurch’s airport boss says not only was he interested in landing a slice of Queenstown Airport – but the involvement of other bidders may have led to a higher price. 

The revelation comes as protest continues to swirl around Queenstown Airport Corporation’s controversial and secret sell-off of a 24.99 per cent share to Auckland International Airport for $27.7 million. 

Christchurch Internat-ional Airport boss Jim Boult: “If the question [of a stake] was put to us, would we have considered it if asked? 

“The answer is certainly yes,” Boult says. 

Further, Boult suggests the 24.99 per cent shareholding may have been undersold because of QAC’s board choosing a one-horse race, with Auckland as the only starter. 

“You never know what price you’re going to get unless you go to the market,” Boult says. 

Listed company Infratil, Wellington Airport’s controlling shareholder, may also have put its hand up, director Tim Brown says. 

“Over the years, we’ve spoken to Queenstown – we’ve knocked on the door from time to time – so it would certainly have been the case that we’d have been interested,” Brown says. 

While disappointed not to get a look-in, Infratil can see benefits to Queenstown in the Auckland tie-up, he concedes. 

“Realistically, there are things Auckland could offer Queenstown that neither Christchurch nor Infratil are able to. A million dollars here or there is almost incidental.” 

Boult reveals Queenstown Lakes District Council would have known of Christchurch’s interest – his airport’s courted Queenstown for years. 

Three or four years ago, a Christchurch Airport delegation – including Boult, then a director – met mayor Clive Geddes and then-QLDC boss Duncan Field. 

“We discussed a raft of possibilities ranging from shareholding through to just closer ties [like] sharing marketing, back-office stuff, operational facilities, etc,” Boult says. 

Nothing came of that but Christchurch had “informal discussions” with QAC on marketing alliances early this year, he says. 

After Debra Lawson replaced Field this March, Boult says he met the new QLDC boss to let her know his airport remained interested in a link-up. 

Lawson didn’t want to progress things quite so soon so Boult agreed to call again early next year. 

“The next thing I knew, I was receiving Auckland [International’s] press release on it,” he says. 

In ads outlining “merits” of the deal this week, Queenstown Airport board chairman Mark Taylor says Auckland was the ideal partner. 

“If it was just about raising capital, there would have been no shortage of potential partners. 

“This wasn’t about selling something for the best price. This was about a partnership to deliver benefit for the community by supporting local tourism growth aspirations.” 

Last night, Queenstown developer John Martin – spokesman for newly-formed Community Strategic Assets Group which is opposed to the share sale – told a Chamber of Commerce meeting: “As an open tender process was not used, the true market value for this unique asset remains at large.”

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