Sir Eion urges Queenstown to move airport to hilltop

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A prominent Queens­towner proposes relocating the airport to the top of Queenstown Hill to handle bigger jets and growing tourist numbers. 

Well-known investor Sir Eion Edgar warns Queenstown’s growth will be stunted because the Frankton runway can’t take wide-bodied jets like 747s. 

“We need to take a 20- to 30-year view,” he says. 

An airport on Queens­town Hill farmland has three pluses, he believes. 

Edgar says noise wouldn’t be the issue it is with Queenstown Airport at Frankton, which has residential and other neighbours. 

The second plus is Queenstown Hill’s scope for a much longer runway: “You’ve got to have bigger planes or I don’t know otherwise how you get everyone in.” 

Thirdly, Edgar suggests Queenstown Hill would provide safer and more convenient access to the resort. 

Planes wouldn’t be landing beside the Remarkables mountains, he says, adding it’s possible arriving passengers could take a gondola to town.

“Imagine anyone arriving there then jumping on a gondola with their luggage and landing into downtown Queenstown. 

“It would be just so spectacular.” 

Edgar says he doesn’t know what a new airport would cost but is confident it could be funded by selling the existing land and buildings. 

“The value of that land in Frankton has increased dramatically. 

“Obviously you’d have to buy the [Queenstown Hill] land but at least it’s farmland – it’s not as expensive as buying industrial land.” 

Building a new airport might require bridging finance – “but given the success and continuing growth of the airport, this should not be too difficult”. 

Edgar adds a full feasibility study would be required before any decision was made. 

Queenstown Hill farmer Arnold Middleton believes his property would be a logical site for a larger airport. 

“There’s heaps of room. We don’t get a hell of a lot of grazing off the top of it anyway.” 

Middleton, who’s farmed Queenstown Hill for almost 50 years, recalls the site was floated for an airport in the late 1980s, before jets started landing at Frankton. 

Middleton says a pilot, who was pushing for the site, hired him and his wife Isabelle to take fog readings on his land for a year. 

“We found that quite often when the jets couldn’t come into Frankton, they could go to the top of the hill.” 

Queenstowner Don Lawrence – a retired Gore farmer – advocated the site in a Mountain Scene story in 1987.

Lawrence maintains it wouldn’t be hard to build a runway there. 

“All your rock and fill is there,” he says, adding any snow lies there for no more than two days afterwards. 

The fact his idea is being picked up 25 years later is “slightly orgasmic”, he says. 

Queenstown Airport Cor­por­ation chief executive Scott Paterson says his organisation is committed to a 25-year masterplan for its Frankton site that runs till 2037. 

The existing airport’s 1800m-long runway is bounded by the Shotover River at one end and the Kawarau Road at the other. 

Paterson: “If we said, yes, we need extra length for bigger jets and there’s a real business case for it, then I think you open up the entire debate as to what other alternatives are there. 

“Is it building into the Shotover, or out across Kawarau Rd, or do you bite the bullet and build a longer airstrip somewhere else? 

“If you were to relocate this airport and create a very large runway for big international jets, it’s clearly a debate not just for this community, it’s for the South Island. You’ve got to say, what role does Christchurch then play? 

“I welcome all the debate. I just don’t want to get distracted on it in the short term.”