International arrival numbers up sharply

Million-dollar upgrade of the international arrivals lounge at Queenstown Airport is on the cards to cater for growing passenger numbers, which in February increased by almost 40%.

Figures released by Auckland International Airport, which has a 24.99% shareholding in Queenstown Airport, showed passenger numbers for February increased to 21,980, up from 15,716 in February 2013.

International aircraft movements increased by 30.5% during the same period, from 118 to 154.

AIAL also has a shareholding in Cairns and Mackay Airports, which both showed a decrease in international passengers during the same period.

Auckland airport had a 6.9% increase in international passengers, up to 340,264 from 318,360.

Queenstown Airport Corporation chief executive Scott Paterson said the increase at the resort was solely attributed to direct flights from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

It was that growth which was driving the international arrivals hall upgrade, expected to begin in September.

The $4.3 million upgrade of the airport's departure facilities - which doubled the size of the international and domestic departure areas, allowing for extra security screening lanes and immigration booths as well as a redevelopment of Air New Zealand's Koru Lounge at the mezzanine level - was officially opened in September 2012.

Mr Paterson said a temporary arrivals hall would be established for this winter, likely to cost about $500,000. However, the permanent solution was still in the design process.

''We're getting feedback coming in from airlines and other agencies as to what their requirements are. It will allow more planes to come in and enable passengers to [disembark] planes quickly.

''The message from the airlines is that we are on the right path as far as our development is concerned. Their preference is to do it incrementally, rather than a big-bang development.

''There has been a lot of growth and we look forward to more.''

Capital investment had been aided by the strategic alliance with AIAL, announced in 2010, after QAC created a new 24.99% shareholding, selling it to AIAL for $27.7 million.

Mr Paterson said the alliance had enabled QAC to pay down debt, allowing it to re-borrow to fund further investment.

The airport was nearing capacity in terms of international flights during peak periods, limited in part by the number of stands available and pressure on parts of the airport during peak hours.

''You fix one capacity issue and another one pops up.

''That's why we're very keen to get the additional land from Remarkables Park.''

In the Environment Court in Queenstown last week, Judge Jane Borthwick heard arguments over the future use of 19ha of greenfield land called ''Lot 6''.

Owner Remarkables Parks wants to keep Lot 6 and claims it was given assurances it could use it as a buffer zone between aircraft noise and its commercial and residential development.

However, the airport corporation denied deals were struck and maintained Lot 6 was the only suitable alternative for a larger park for light aircraft, helicopters and the growing corporate jet market.

The aviators who would use the park preferred it over proposed land to the north of the runway.

The statutory responsibilities of the corporation and court superseded earlier agreements, airport counsel said.

To cater for the increased demand, the airport corporation could increase the number of stands at the airport.

It was also investigating its ability to land flights after 5pm in the winter months.

The airport's resource consent enabled it to operate until 10pm, Mr Paterson said. But it still required approval from both the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

''We're trying to do a two- to three-step process.

''We're trying to get from CAA and CASA, is it possible and can it be done safely?.

''We [also] want to understand what infrastructure is required at the airport - we believe it's totally [possible], but it might be hideously expensive.''

 


Sky's the limit
Queenstown Airport Passenger Statistics - February 2014

• Total international passengers up 39.9% on February 2013, from 15,716 to 21,980.

• Total domestic passengers up 3.8%, from 84,643 to 87,885

• International aircraft movements, 154 compared with 118 in February 2013, 30.5% increase

• Domestic aircraft movements, down from 766 to 740, drop of 3.4%, largely due to withdrawal of Jetstar's Wellington-Queenstown service.