Capacity battle for Queenstown Airport

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Queenstown Airport’s $12 million international terminal expansion will, for the first time, put it ahead of rampant passenger growth.

But airport boss Scott Paterson warns there’s a hard landing coming.

The latest terminal expansion is a three-stage, 4080 square metre development.

That will more than double the existing international area and extend the terminal by about a third.

That’ll be a relief for regular overseas tourists, who were processed in a pop-up tent this winter.

Paterson says: “For the first time we’ll be building ahead of volume estimates.

“In winter 2015 we’ll be OK – beyond that, we start to get constrained.”

Paterson claims the airport has now reached building capacity and without resolving its long-running battle with neighbouring developer Remarkables Park it can’t fully realise its potential.

Even the much-vaunted night flights – due to start in winter 2016 – won’t, by themselves, solve the problem.

The airport wants to use the contested 18.4 hectares, known as lot six, to build a parallel taxiway to the main runway.

The airport’s attempt to require the land to be handed over is locked in an Environment Court battle – with a decision expected by the end of the year.

Remarkables Park developer Alastair Porter says his company shouldn’t be seen as holding the airport back.

Negotiations with the airport are happening now, he says, and an agreement might be reached meaning more court action isn’t necessary.

Paterson says unless the Environment Court gives approval for the airport to obtain the Remarkables Park land, the airport’s growth – and Queenstown’s tourism – will be capped.

If it’s cleared to take over lot six, the airport plans to move its corporate jet terminal and general aviation precinct for helicopters and light aircraft there.

That’ll free up land for more jet stands and a parallel taxiway used to “stack” aircraft ahead of take-off.

Without it, Paterson warns, winter flights will be capped and some tourists will be forced to bus in.

“We’re like a frog in a pot of water, boiling; it just boils itself to death.

“We’ll just become clogged.”

The latest annual passengers stats (see sidebar) show why the airport has struggled to keep up with demand – half a million more people fly here each year than they did five years ago.

The airport’s long-term capital works programme is targeting five million passengers.

Corporate jets are being turned away because there’s no space to hold them.

That’s hitting the Wakatipu in the pocket, Paterson says.

The airport is expanding the international area because of the strong growth in trans-Tasman flights.

The expansion’s first stage, to be completed by winter, will comprise new duty free and Customs areas, additional toilets, a third baggage reclaim area and expanded Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and Biosecurity areas.

Smart Gate technology is also on the cards.

Once open the airport will be able to process almost 1000 passengers an hour – up from the current 480.

The second stage – which thrusts MPI and Immigration together – and the third, opening up a mezzanine floor for international departures, will be driven by demand.

The airport company is 75.1 per cent owned by Queenstown’s council, with the balance held by Auckland Airport.

ed@scene.co.nz