2 Nov 2015

Warning over Queenstown night flights

5:14 pm on 2 November 2015

Pilots are warning night flights at Queenstown airport could be catastrophic.

Watch a YouTube video of the approach into Queenstown airport here:

The airport has announced it will start work this week on a wider and better-lit runway so flying at night can start next year.

The $17 million project will allow airlines with specially trained pilots to make the challenging approach to Queenstown in total darkness.

But pilots say the improvements do not go far enough and must include a longer safety zone in case planes over-shoot the runway.

Airline Pilots Association spokesman Dave Reynolds said the consequences of not doing this could be extremely serious.

"The outcome could be catastrophic, particularly with the runway and safety area.

"There's going to be an increasing number of aircraft flying in there. You are going to have, as a result of that, more exposure for an incident.

"We would very, very much like to see steps taken at this point to prevent that."

But airport authorities rejected the call for a 240m overshoot zone at each end of the runway, saying the current 90m zone complied with the regulatory minimum required.

Plans by pilots to blacklist the airport over these safety concerns were dismissed by airport operations manager Mike Clay as being an unofficial action which was not sanctioned by aviation authorities or the airlines.

The airport would use satellite navigation pioneered by Qantas, which enabled planes to fly into the airport the same way trains could go along rail tracks during the day, night or in fog.

The airport had also said it would cover the cost of noise insulation for residents living near the runway who were concerned about the impact of the night flights.

Responding to questions from RNZ about the lack of infrastructure in Queenstown to cope with the extra passenger traffic, the airport's acting chief executive Mark Edghill said the airport contributed almost $4m in dividends to the local council each year.

Mr Reynolds said plans to widen the runway and put in more lighting were welcome but did not resolve the issue of a the safety area and of approaches to the airport not conforming to international standards.

Queenstown Lakes District Council owns 75 percent of Queenstown airport and Auckland International Airport the remaining 25 percent.

Queenstown Airport.

Queenstown Airport. Photo: Queenstown Airport