High Court, high fees for airport battle

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Next week’s Queenstown Airport court scrap will make local legal history twice over. 

Not only will it be the resort’s first High Court hearing, it’s also thought to be Queenstown’s most expensive case per hour. 

Air New Zealand, together with the Queenstown Strategic Assets Group of local businessfolk, are seeking to overturn the partial sell-off of council-owned Queenstown Airport to Auckland Airport. 

Six top lawyers hired for the hearing have estimated combined billings of $4000 an hour, another lawyer tells Mountain Scene. 

If the hearing beginning Monday runs for its scheduled five days, those six lawyers will collect around $150,000 between them – then there’s Justice John Fogarty’s salary. 

Four lawyers – including a QC – separately represent Air NZ, QSAG, Auckland Airport and Queenstown Lakes District Council. 

The other two lawyers, including another QC, appear for Queenstown Airport Corporation – one for the corporation itself, the other for QAC directors cited in the action. 

A close source says Justice Fogarty wants the hearing split into two parts. 

First is whether Queenstown Airport’s secret sell-off of 24.99 per cent of its shares to Auckland was lawful – and if the judge finds it wasn’t, it’ll then be a matter of what should be done about it. 

Next week’s hearing could be cut short or even cancelled if negotiations between the parties bear fruit, the source says. 

“A confidential and without-prejudice settlement discussion has been going on for some weeks.”