The boss of Queenstown Airport wants evening flights next winter – and urges aviation regulators to make them a priority.
Queenstown Airport Corporation chief executive Steve Sanderson says with runway lighting now installed and recent sign-off on runway extensions for extra safety, there are no major obstacles.
It’s been reported budget carrier Jetstar is working on risk analysis of night flying into Queenstown – and Sanderson urges sky regulator the Civil Aviation Authority not to procrastinate if an airline lodges what he calls an “evening flights” application.
“We want to get on with it. The regulators need to give their full attention and support to New Zealand’s number one destination – it’s not something they can procrastinate on.
“Everybody’s hoping for next winter and that’s doable,” Sanderson says.
“There’s a lot of talk amongst wholesalers and tour operators, kind of half anticipating evening flights next winter.
If we can bring it on home, the town is going to see a lift in people coming.”
Sanderson says an extension of the flying window will also ease passenger bottlenecks at the terminal.
As it stands, the airport is consented to operate till 10pm. However, in winter the last flights tend to be around 5pm as airline safety plans for Queenstown require take-offs 30 minutes prior to dusk.
Sanderson hopes to get it pushed out to 6pm or 7pm.
Jetstar chief executive David Hall, who last month announced extra trans-Tasman and North Island connections with Queenstown, said at the time the practicalities of night flights should be assessed.
“The airport, aviation regulators, the community need to work together constructively to assess how we further grow the Queenstown proposition – absolutely night flying will be part of that.”
However, Air New Zealand spokeswoman Marie Hosking this week says her airline has no plans to make an application to CAA.
Air NZ has done a lot of work to understand night flight risks in and out of Queenstown, she says.
“There are a number of infrastructure issues yet to be resolved, including approach and obstacle lighting.
“Ultimately, we’ll be guided by the CAA and at this point the safety case has not been sufficiently made.”
CAA spokesman Bill Sommer says no airline has applied yet.
“Any airline would have to show they can carry out such an operation safely. If they make an application, it’ll be gone through completely.”
Craig Douglas, marketing boss of Queenstown snowfield operator NZSki, says he’d love evening flights next winter: “It would enable Australians in particular to come for short-stay holidays and that’d open up opportunities.”
Sanderson says Queenstown Airport, which last year failed in a bid to get approval for night flying between 10pm and midnight, has no plans to revisit those hours.