29 Oct 2020

Queenstown Airport's revised plans on council agenda - time for 'big reset'

6:42 am on 29 October 2020

Queenstown Lakes councillors will decide today whether to sign off Queenstown Airport's plans for the next three years.

no caption

The impact of Covid has been a huge reduction in the level of Queenstown Airport's activity, its chair says. (file pic) Photo: 123RF

Queenstown Airport Corporation has revised its statement of intent in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and will not apply to increase passenger movements at Queenstown Airport or develop Wānaka Airport during the period covered by the statement.

The statement of intent will remain in effect until July 2023.

Both earlier plans had been contentious in the communities concerned, and were shelved following public opposition.

They were only to be canvassed again once the public had been consulted.

The airport's chair, Adrienne Young-Cooper, said the pandemic had brought them time to better develop any future plans.

"The impact of Covid has been a huge reduction in the level of airport activity, flights coming in. We've seen about a halving of passenger numbers coming through the airport than we had pre-Covid.

"We will see growth, but it does allow us time to do a pretty big reset as to what we think is going to be right thing for the community. Of course, that will need to be led a lot by the council."

The airport corporation is 75 percent owned by Queenstown Lakes District Council and the remainder by Auckland International Airport.

Future planning for Queenstown and Wānaka airports would now involve local councils and central government working together.

"We ended up being a lightening rod for a much broader set of community concerns," Young-Cooper said, reflecting on the earlier shelved master plans for the airports.

"The council, along with the Central Otago District Council and with the Crown, has been working very hard on a spatial planning exercise which has got a 30-year view. That's the appropriate mechanism and they're the appropriate councils and government to have those discussions about how growth should be managed.

"It should not be something we end up doing by default."

The airport paid shareholders dividends of $8.3 million during the past financial year and anticipated paying dividends of $2.5m in the 2023 financial year.

The statement of intent assumed international air travel would not resume during the 2021 financial year, but still projected 1.24 million passenger movements through Queenstown Airport.

"We have been really delighted by the extent that New Zealanders have shown a huge propensity to fly once we got to alert level 1 and we are seeing levels of passengers coming through and exiting Queenstown Airport that we had not anticipated.

"Obviously that's occurring while it's difficult to travel internationally, but it's a really important part of the recovery of Southern Lakes and QAC," Young-Cooper said.

"This part of New Zealand is so attractive to New Zealanders and they are coming in great numbers, they don't replace the international tourists as well but it is better than we thought it was going to be."

Passengers board commercial jet at Queenstown Airport.

More people are flying in and out of Queenstown than expected, although not at the levels experienced before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. (file pic) Photo: 123RF

Cromwell plan to be 'considered'

The statement of intent also acknowledged Christchurch International Airport's shock acquisition of 750 hectares of farmland near Cromwell in Central Otago.

"We note the July 2020 announcement by Christchurch International Airport Limited (CIAL) that it has acquired 750 hectares of rural land in Tarras, Central Otago, with the intention of developing a new large-scale, wide-body jet capable international airport in QLDC's neighbouring district at some point in the future," the statement said.

"We note that if CIAL's proposal was to move forward, QLDC and its residents would be reliant on the resource management process alone to respond to the social, environmental, infrastructure and economic impacts of this type of airport development on the region.

The sign for Otago town Tarras, where land has been bought for a potential airport.

Christchurch International Airport has big plans for land it has bought at Tarras. Photo: RNZ / Timothy Brown

"The QAC board of directors is confident that the region is well served by its existing airports now and into the future. While we do not view CIAL's announcement as having an impact on QAC's business operations over the period covered by this [statement of intent], it will be considered as part of our long-term planning work."

Young-Cooper said Queenstown Airport Corporation was considering any potential impact from a new airport at Tarras, but if it eventuated it was a long way off.

"We've got no shortage of airports in the south. We've got Dunedin, Invercargill, Queenstown who are all within three to three-and-a-half hours of each other, so there's plenty of capacity for the foreseeable future," she said.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council will vote on the statement of intent at this afternoon's full council meeting.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs