Let’s look to London on airport advice


PARTING SHOT: When you’re obsessed with a small place like Queenstown it’s mind-bending to fly into London Heathrow.

The airport’s massive terminals are connected by a maze of roads, interspersed with carparking and rail links.

Plane spotters with long lenses gather like gawking geese at the ends of runways.

The scale is breathtaking.

On average, 201,000 people come and go each day. A year ago it had its busiest day, with 241,412 passengers on the move.

International passengers make up 93 per cent of that - or 68.1 million people of the 73.4 million passenger movements at Heathrow last year.

Compare that to Queenstown.

In June, our airport took and distributed a touch under 90,000 passengers and, in the previous 12 months, 1.4 million people crossed its threshold.

On its biggest day for international arrivals - in June - 1585 passengers touched down on 11 flights.

I know, it’s like comparing apples with giant pumpkins.

My statistical journey isn’t designed to belittle Queenstown’s airport or its impressive growth statistics.

But it’s important when considering our own situation to see how the world’s busiest places, seething with tourists, have expanded.

The thing I’ve seized on is what passes for “London” when you’re flying in from the other side of the world.

Heathrow is 32 kilometres from central London. Officially it’s not even in London - it’s in Middlesex.

Other “London” airports are further afield - Gatwick is 46km away, Luton 55km and Stansted 64km.

Closer to home, Melbourne’s Avalon airport is 55km from the city. That’s $A110 by taxi.

Why am I beating you over the head with these distances?

Because Queenstown Airport’s expansion will hit a natural ceiling. Its runway is too short, at 1911 metres, Compared with Christchurch’s 3300m. And it’ll stay this way unless we start filling in the Shotover River and bowling houses at Frankton.

Given the frenzy of building around it, space to expand its facilities is at a premium.

Queenstown is likely to remain a plaything for Aucklanders and Aussies living on the continent’s eastern seaboard.

The “problem”, if you like, is how to get flights into Central Otago from the next “step”. That’s places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Imagine if you could drive a short distance, park your car and fly direct to Asia. Imagine the regional economic lift if a long-haul international airport could be built nearby. Beyond the terminal, duty free shops and customs halls, there’d be secure carparking, rental vehicle depots and hotels to be built.

Of course, public transport to our new airport would have to be vastly improved.

It’s time to grow up and accept our existing airport’s limitations.

I’m booking a flight to Queenstown (Cromwell) international airport.