Rich and famous wing into resort

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Queenstown Airport reports 120 private jets came in during 2010 – a third more than 2009

February was most popular – 20 of the sleek aircraft zipped in – followed by 17 in October and 14 in December.

With Learjets selling from $3.3 million to $47m, and hiring at around $7000 hourly, owners or charterers – and passengers – are likely to inject money into the local economy.

Yet private-jet landing fees are only petty cash for council-owned Queenstown Airport, bringing in just $72,400 last year and averaging $603 per plane.

The airport doesn’t record a private jet’s country of origin but New Zealand Customs figures indicate one-third fly here direct from overseas with the remainder entering NZ at another airport first.

In Queenstown, Customs screens an average of seven people per private jet, plus crew.

Most corporate jets have Kiwi handling agents who notify authorities of arrivals and pay landing fees and other charges.

The Aviation Security Service says it doesn’t bother screening private-jet passengers on departure.

Customs, which must be notified at least two hours before private jets arrive, doesn’t charge for screening their passengers – providing jetsetters arrive within normal work hours of 8am-5pm Monday to Friday.

Outside those times, Customs can charge $72.60 per hour, with a minimum $245 on Sundays or provincial anniversaries – yet the Government department cuts private jets some slack, imposing charges of just $30 an hour plus a $50 flat fee.

“Most private aircraft are cleared by Customs [for] $140,” Customs spokesman Rowan McArthur admits.

Staff prefer to “process” private jet passengers and crew in Queenstown Airport’s international arrival hall but “occasionally they may be cleared on board the aircraft”, she says.

Customs won’t disclose details of people “cleared on board”.

Going by the private jets winging into Queenstown, you’d never guess there’s a world recession.