Taking off: Queenstown Airport ops and safety boss Mike Clay


One of Queenstown Airport’s top executives is jetting off to the Solomon Islands to fulfill a career goal.

Operations and safety boss Mike Clay will empty his desk on Christmas Eve and begin packing his bags for a three-year role, starting in February, as chief executive of Solomon Islands Airports Corporation Ltd.

Based in the nation’s capital, Honiara, he’ll oversee the transition of its aviation sector from a government department to a state-owned enterprise.

The 51-year-old says an executive management course in 2018 prompted him to plot some career goals, and he decided he’d love to help a developing country grow its aviation  infrastructure.

‘‘It just so happened this opportunity came up more quickly than I expected.’’

He was supposed to start the job 18 months ago, and resigned his current role then, but Covid put things on ice.

‘‘This is my second resignation.’’

He’s well aware of the recent civil unrest and rioting in Honiara, for which New Zealand’s just sent military personnel and police to assist the country’s government.

However, he says the violence hasn’t been targeted at expats, and he’s confident he’ll be safe.

His wife and daughter will remain in the resort, and a generous amount of leave built into his contract means he’ll be making regular trips home — the keen skier’s even bought a season pass for next winter.

Born and raised in Ohakune, Clay took up his role with the Queenstown Airport Corporation in 2015, after nearly eight years at Auckland International Airport.

With responsibility for managing the resort airport’s airside and terminal operations, he’s played a key role during a time of extraordinary change.

That includes five years of exponential growth in passenger numbers before they fell off a cliff after the first lockdown, and managing its biggest project during that time, the introduction of night flights in 2016.

Clay says he understands why negative perceptions of the airport grew in the community as passenger numbers soared pre-Covid, but points out the airport only facilitates demand, rather than driving it.

However, he accepts it could’ve ‘‘engaged and communicated better’’ with residents.

The arrival of Glen Sowry as chief executive in September has ‘‘created a new direction’’ for the company, he says.

‘‘I think he’s doing a great job of communicating with the communities of Queenstown and Central Otago.’’