New hope for Queenstown night flights

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Queenstown Airport’s depart­ing chief executive says an official night flights’ risk review concludes no safety obstacles are too big.

Queenstown Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson, who finished this week, is upbeat about the potential for lucrative evening flights after seeing a new Civil Aviation Authority report on the risks.

CAA, the country’s sky police, won’t yet release the report – called the Queenstown Air Transport Operations CAA Risk Review – as it’s still in draft form.

However, Sanderson tells Mount­­­ain Scene: “In summary, and at this stage, there is no indication that CAA foresees any insurmountable risk-mitigation prob­­­­­lems with night operations using RNP.”

RNP, or Required Navigation Per-formance, is GPS technology directing planes on pre-programmed tracks through the Wakatipu’s mountainous terrain in low or no visibility. 

Sanderson, off to be the chief executive at Wellington Airport, adds: “Queenstown Air­port Corporation will continue to work with airlines and, at this point, Jetstar to determine where it can assist in mitigating identified risks for non-daylight operations for RNP [flights] only.” 

Sanderson says CAA initiated the latest review in response to soaring growth in Queenstown flights and publicity surrounding the possibility of night flying.

CAA is awaiting feedback on the report from airlines, Queenstown Airport, avi­­at­ion industry figures and Queens­town Lakes District Council.

CAA spokeswoman Emma Peel says it will then be publicly available.

“It’s essentially still in discussion and those discussions may affect the outcome of it. So it’s not quite ready for public release.”

Sanderson has boldly pushed for Queenstown night flights, telling Mountain Scene back in October that CAA needs to make them a priority.

“Everyone’s hoping for next winter and that’s doable,” Sanderson said at the time.

The airport is consented to operate till 10pm, but the last flights in winter tend to be around 5pm as airline safety plans for the resort require take-offs 30 minutes prior to dusk.

Sanderson hopes the winter flying window can be pushed out till 6-7pm to ease terminal bottlenecks and make ski weekends in Queenstown more attractive for Australian visitors.

Bosses at budget airline Jetstar are backing the night flights push, promising to set up a Queenstown base and increase flight numbers if they go ahead.

Air New Zealand’s position is that several infrastructure issues need to be resolved including approach and obstacle lighting for Queenstown Airport’s surrounding hills and mountains.

Pilot union the New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association believes it will take at least two years to ensure all standards and recommended practices for night flying are met.