Queenstown’s most prominent unconsented helipad has approval.
But the Environment Court has limited plans to greatly increase helicopter landings at Skyline’s gondola site, based on safety and noise concerns.
In a decision issued last week, Judge Jon Jackson and commissioner Kathryn Edmonds allowed up to four helicopter landings a day in a five-year consent.
That overturned a 2011 decision from council-appointed commissioners, who approved up to 3160 landings a year and a maximum of 15 flights a day once a week.
Skyline Enterprises chairman Mark Quickfall says it has not decided whether to appeal the court decision, after a lengthy fight that has cost Skyline and ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
”It’s not just disappointing for Skyline and The Helicopter Line, but I’d have to suggest disappointing for tourism,” he says.
Landings at Skyline are predominantly for tourist ”combos” – where they have a jet-boat ride and are helicoptered to the gondola site – but also for conferences and weddings.
“People who will be coming to Queenstown anticipating doing one of those trips won’t be able to – because there simply won’t be capacity,” Quickfall says.
“Likewise, conference organisers who expect to be able to fly their people to Skyline and land up there, we won’t be able to accommodate their requests.”
A helipad has operated at the site overlooking Queenstown – about 30m from Skyline’s restaurant – since 1975, in a busy council-controlled recreation reserve criss-crossed with luge, walking and mountain bike tracks.
It is also a tourist hot-spot, visited by more than 600,000 people a year.
The mish-mash of uses, and the helipad’s proximity to Ziptrek Ecotours’s first “tree house”, prompted the court’s flight restrictions.
It was Ziptrek that took the Environment Court appeal.
Executive director Trent Yeo says he is happy with the decision.
“What I believe the judge has understood is the complexity of the site requires very good design,” he said.
“I’m hoping we can just move forward and get on with business with the flights that have been allocated and look at making sure that all parties think about the site’s development in a positive way but also in a very strategic way in regards to safety management.”
The Environment Court decision said the proposal for up to 15 flights a day would have imposed too much noise on Ziptrek and recreational users.
“The associated significant adverse noise effects are not acceptable.”
On safety, the decision said: “We find that the location and operation of the helipad in relation to other nearby activities (including walking and mountain biking) is compromising levels of public safety.”
Consent conditions imposed include better signage and continuous radio contact between helicopter pilots and a ground-based marshal.
It is not the first time Skyline and Ziptrek have traded blows. In August, Ziptrek’s 11th-hour appeal to councillors stymied Skyline’s plans for a competing business in the same area.
Skyline wants to extend its lease and start other tourism activities near the gondola building, including a zipline, gold-panning and a climbing wall.
The company is also planning a major overhaul of its gondola attraction, including a larger gondola cableway to double capacity, an extended top terminal complex and a new bottom terminal.
Otago Daily Times