Queenstown Airport boss outlines barriers to growth

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Queenstown Airport is expected to operate near peak capacity this winter for international flights.

And airport boss Scott Paterson says its ability to cater for the forecasted continuing growth will depend on two protracted issues.

Total passenger numbers increased by 21 per cent in the six months to the end of 2012 compared to the previous year.

It follows a strong four-year surge that has seen Queenstown become one of the quickest growing airports in Australia.

But key issues – including acquiring an 18.4 hectare parcel of land from Remarkables Park and night flights – still have to be resolved.

“It’s slow, frustrating and extremely litigious,” Paterson says on the subject of acquiring the land – labelled Lot 6.

It would allow the airport to move to General Aviation Precinct – helicopters and light aircraft – and build a parallel taxi way.

“I can’t underestimate the importance and the timeliness of that. I guess the airport felt that securing ‘project of national significance’ was a major milestone to get this fast-t racked but if this what fast-tracking is I’m glad we got it.”

Paterson, presenting the airport’s three-year Statement of Intent to Queenstown Lakes District Council, says he expects an Environment Court decision this quarter with both parties then likely to take issues to the High Court.

Forty-one trans-Tasman flights are scheduled to land at the expanded terminal each week in July and August up from 34 last season. New terminal builds could start in 2016.

“We thought we were at our capacity last year, so you can see it’s how long a piece of string, or rubber band.

“If we can spread those flights into the evening, particularly during the winter, we’ll alleviate a lot of pressure at that terminal.”

Paterson has created an ad-hoc committee of airline representatives and external experts to work out whether the airport can safely allow planes to take off and land after dusk.

“There’s no dragging the chain, there’s a lot of work behind the scenes.

“The first step is we will engage with CAA to say this is a general safety case for the airport does it have any legs or not or are we just kidding ourselves.

“Then we need the [airlines] to actually file independent safety cases. We will go to the CAA and they will make a decision.

“If they give us the green light it then comes back to us as an organisation and we will look at the constraints and prerequisites put on us, which might be a huge amount of resource, and is that justifiable, and then it goes back to the airlines to say is there a business case for this.”

Paterson expects to know whether night flights are feasible by the end of the year.

Airport chairman John Gilks also reported on the airport’s financial performance over the six months to the end of December.

Council is the majority shareholder with 75.1 per cent. Auckland Airport Holdings owns 24.9 per cent. Profits jumped up 10 per cent to $3.106 million.

Gilks says: “Overall the result is in line with expectations, passenger numbers are a bit better than expected, the company is performing well and in good sound financial position.”

Gilks says the strategic alliance with Auckland Airport has helped drive the increase in passengers and also stressed the importance of acquiring Lot 6.

“If we don’t do it now then people sitting around this table in another 20 years are going to say it was a very sad day.

“So we’re doing everything we can. We’ve put an awful lot of money into it and the board and management are determined to see this through to a positive outcome.”