Garden City fee hike may trigger more ZQN services

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Landing-fee hikes at Christchurch Airport may boost direct flights into Queenstown.

“That is quite possible – yes, yes,” says John Beckett, executive director of the Board of Airline Repre­sentatives New Zealand.

BARNZ is the collective lobby group for major air­lines.

Christchurch Airport last month announced plans to hike landing fees by an average of 35 per cent – although airlines claim charges will increase 66 per cent by July 2010.

Airlines have said the Canterbury city could suffer the loss of flights to other gateway airports as a result.

Most Queenstown flights are traditionally routed via Christchurch but Beckett says Queenstown could see an increase in direct services if Garden City hikes go ahead.

“That’s the sort of thing that can happen,” he says.

“Airlines will always be looking at what route structures they have and looking to improve their profitability – and the sort of thing that prompts them to particularly look at it is where there’s a substantial price increase at one place or another.”

Beckett doesn’t know of any particular airline looking at more direct flights here – “[just that] this is the sort of thing that could possibly cause an airline to make a change of that kind”.

Christchurch Airport says passengers will pay 65c to $1.30 more per flight but Beckett calculates the average at $1.70, with up to $3.50 per passenger on wide-body aircraft such as Boeing 777s.

BARNZ plans an urgent submission to anti-competition watchdog, the Com­­merce Commission.

Has Beckett heard any grizzles from airlines about Queenstown landing fees? “I haven’t heard of any complaints.”
He’s also aware Christ­church Airport has a Queenstowner in the cockpit – developer and businessman Jim Boult, who’s been on the airport board for some years and recently stepped in as acting chief executive when the former airport boss resigned suddenly.

Beckett doesn’t find the Queenstown connection ironic – “No, not really, because it’s a bigger world”.

Boult says his airport’s landing-fee hikes are the first since 2001. “I don’t think we’re at risk of losing flights [to Queenstown].

“If you look at the level of increases we’ve put in place, that would be a drastic move for a relatively small move in prices.”

Beckett’s prediction also overlooks restrictions on the size of aircraft that can service the resort, Boult adds – not only because of terrain constraints but also from a lack of infrastructure.

“I would be surprised if services are removed from Christchurch [in favour of Queenstown] for those reasons.”