Queenstown Airport legal battle pulled at eleventh hour

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The costly and contentious legal battle over Queenstown Airport has been withdrawn at the eleventh hour.

Air New Zealand and group of vocal businessmen belonging to Queenstown Community Strategic Assets Group (QSAG) have today (Friday) collectively withdrawn their cases against Auckland International Airport Ltd over its 24.99 per cent shareholding in the resort’s airport.

The High Court was scheduled to sit in Queenstown next Monday for a week – it’s thought to be the Wakatipu’s most expensive case per hour.

“It has become clear as we prepared for the case that this would be a long and expensive battle which could cost several million dollars for all involved, including the Queenstown community, which would have long term disadvantage for everyone,” Air NZ deputy CEO Norm Thompson says in a statement.

“When AIAL agreed that it would cancel the option to increase its shareholding of QAC to 30-35%, we began to look at ways we could turn the situation around for the benefit of everyone involved.

“By AIAL keeping its shareholding at 24.99%, many of the concerns we had about its involvement and as a competitor to Queenstown Airport were mitigated.”

The scrapping of the case follows a recent decision by Queenstown Lakes District Council to force the-then QAC board chairman Mark Taylor to resign. Taylor oversaw the behind-closed-doors deal in June last year.

No one from QSAG was available for comment.

Mayor Vanessa van Uden welcomes the news.

“This allows the council to move ahead with its desire to engage the community about the future of the airport, something that has had to be parked because of the litigation,” she says.

QLDC will now undertake a comprehensive strategic review of airport assets in the Queenstown Lakes District, including economic, social and environmental considerations.

QLDC has also begun a full review of the Queenstown Airport Corporation constitution, which will form part of a larger review of governance and shareholding arrangements with all council controlled organisations like Lakes Leisure and Lakes Environmental.

“We will be looking for a level of transparency and an environment of ‘no surprises’,” Van Uden says.

QLDC hopes the Office of the Auditor General will undertake an independent review of the process around the Queenstown Airport issue of shares, as it had earlier proposed.

QAC boss Steve Sanderson also welcomes the decision.

“We have worked hard to find a solution and this decision is a sensible one. We can now look forward to moving on from this distraction and continuing to meet the demands of the fastest growing airport in New Zealand.”