Seat boost prompts airport fast-track

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Air New Zealand’s putting on an extra 140,000 seats to Queenstown thanks to larger aircraft and more flights.

That should be good news for consumers, with cheaper flights.

But it’ll put extra pressure on an already squeezed Queenstown Airport – so the airport company is bringing forward scheduled improvements. 

Queenstown Airport Corporation boss Scott Paterson declares: “We will handle it.”

The national carrier has announced it will increase its total capacity by more than 650,000 seats in the coming financial year.

Of those, 110,000 on the Auckland-Queenstown route will result from more flights on the larger A320 aircraft.

More than 20,000 new seats will be added to the Christchurch-Queenstown route.

Additionally, more than 12,000 seats will be added between Queenstown and Wellington through more flights and operating the larger A320, able to carry 171 passengers, on that route.

The additional capacity out of Auckland, in particular, is outstanding, he says, and will provide a valuable link for visitors the East Coast and Midwest United States and from Argentina.

However, it will heap added pressure on the airport.

A $12 million expansion of the international terminal, to be completed by June, will more than double the size of the departure lounge and enable the airport to process 1000 passengers an hour, up from 480. 

Additional improvements to be fast-tracked include improving the baggage check-in – Virgin passengers will be able to check in at Air New Zealand kiosks this winter – and back-of-house baggage handling.

“Our landside areas – parking, [the] roading network – will be increasingly under pressure,” Paterson says.

“The challenge for us will be around the peaks … for the large part of this winter we can’t take any more flights.

“Next winter we hope to have evening flights, so that opens it up a bit more.

“We will be busy [but] it’s outstanding and we will handle it.”

Destination Queenstown chairman Matt Hollyer says domestic tourism is an important stimulus for the resort.

Any additional links to Auckland – the main gateway for international travellers – is welcome news. 

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman says between April and October this year it will operate an average of 30 return flights a week between Queenstown and Christchurch, a 5 per cent increase on last year.

The carrier will also operate an average of 31 trips a week between Auckland and Queenstown, with seat capacity planned to be 17 per cent up on the same period last year.

When asked if the larger planes would equate to cheaper airfares, the spokeswoman says the extra capacity would create “pricing competitiveness” which “should be welcome news for consumers”.

This year, Air New Zealand has slightly increased services to and from Dunedin airport, with a 4 per cent boost to seats to Christchurch and Wellington between April and October.

Last Thursday, the airline revealed it was beginning direct flights to Houston, Texas, from December.

It has previously announced plans to also begin direct flights to Buenos Aires, Argentina, also in December.

Otago Daily Times