New Queenstown Airport chief executive Scott Paterson admits he’s an aviation novice.
The Aucklander took over the top job on March 1 – replacing Steve Sanderson who is now chief executive at Wellington Airport.
When Paterson addressed Queenstown Chamber of Commerce members in his first public engagement at the airport terminal last Wednesday he was frank about his pending learning curve, saying many in the room probably know more about the airport than him.
“This is day 14 for me, which is why I’m hanging on to these notes like my life depended on it. Some of you have probably heard I’m from Auckland and have never had an airport job before – that’s true.”
Paterson joked learning aviation industry acronyms would be a challenge itself.
With no specific aviation experience, he’s spent four years running a similar business, Port of Portland in Victoria, Australia, and was the logistics boss at Ports of Auckland for four years.
Paterson says one thing he learnt is how much the community had invested in the business: “Their jobs and often their livelihoods depended on what the port was doing – there was a lot of passion and a hell of a lot of advice given to me whenever I ran into locals.
“I’ve a feeling Queenstown is the same sort of environment. I undertake to listen to you, although not necessarily to follow you. But I’ll give feedback on why I think your ideas are not in line with what we’re trying to do.”
Growth continues – in January, the airport for the first time welcomed more than 100,000 passengers in a month and is expected to reach a record 1.34 million this financial year.
Queenstown Airport Corporation paid its first dividend to shareholders – majority-owner Queenstown Lakes District Council and Auckland Airport – earlier this year. Gross earnings in the past six months were $6.2 million, up 11 per cent, but only $2.8m net due to interest and depreciation.
Passenger numbers will rise again this winter with 33 international flights a week, up from 29.
Chairman John Gilks, in his six-month report, says: “Shareholders’ funds, the council’s and Auckland’s equity, is about $120 m.
“There’s debt of about $18m. It’s a very good position, especially going forward if you look at growth likely to happen here over the next five to 10 years.”
Managing the growth will be one of Paterson’s main tasks. Last winter, unprecedented passenger numbers saw the airport struggle to cope.
“This place was built for far fewer international arrivals than we’re actually experiencing. Our focus in the immediate future is to address those growth pains.
“Everyone I speak to talks about last winter and what at the time I guess would seem horror stories. But they speak not in a negative tone but very much positive – we did it, we got through it. I listen and think ‘Wow, what a wonderful business’.”
Project 2012 will address some issues – with a $4.2m terminal expansion to bring queuing passengers in from the cold.
It caps projects in the past few years, like a master plan and noise boundary work, expansion of the baggage reclaim area, improvement to fuel facilities, finalisation of the eastern Runway End Safety Area, sealing the cross-wind runway and runway lights, which could pave the way for continued growth with night flights.
“If we can get night flights not only can we open the opportunity for greater attractiveness, particularly from the Australian market, but we also spread what would otherwise be some really peak loads which we’re experiencing at the moment,” Paterson says.
“We get a better asset utilisation and we defer capital spend, which is good for everyone.”