Night-time principal airport role envisioned

John BeattieAir New Zealand and the Wanaka Chamber of Commerce squared off yesterday at the Wanaka Airport plan change hearing on just how big Wanaka Airport could be in 20 years' time.

Chamber spokesman John Beattie told independent hearing commissioners Bob Batty and Stephen Chiles yesterday the airport should be the future principal regional airport at night-time, because district plan rules prevent Queenstown Airport from operating beyond 10pm.

The airport was "critical" to the well-being of the Upper Clutha district, which relied on tourism as its "lifeblood", Mr Beattie said.

Growth in tourism, particularly from Australia, and in the numbers of jet aircraft numbers in the Asia Pacific region would be such that Wanaka Airport would be a strategic international airport option, he said.

Air New Zealand's view is that Wanaka Airport growth projections are so unrealistic and unclear that new night-time noise boundaries and development restrictions should not be imposed on neighbours.

It does not believe Wanaka's tourism market is dependent on having its own airport and does not think the district's two airports should compete for jets.

The airline's infrastructure strategy manager Eric Morgan said yesterday he was not confident Wanaka Airport would expand as suggested in growth forecasts, without having some consequence on Queenstown.

"The chamber saw quite strongly their future being in night-time flights . . . [but] it shouldn't be concluded there would be no international flights into Queenstown at night," he said.

Mr Morgan said the airline had reduced its flights into Wanaka because growth had been "substantially less" than the cost of providing additional services.

Only when load factors reached adequate levels would additional frequencies be resumed, using the 19-seater Beech aircraft.

Mr Morgan declined to reveal the airline's present loads because the Otago Daily Times was present at the hearing but he undertook to provide the figure confidentially to the commissioners.

The commissioners asked Mr Beattie how the Queenstown Lakes District Council could justify a business case for capital spending on two international airports just one hour's drive apart.

Mr Beattie said both airports were critical assets and needed to have a mutual understanding of each other's objectives.

The consequence of not investing in Wanaka would cost the community more, things were "pretty tough" and the chamber would not shy away from entering debate about the region's future, he said.

"We will not be forgiven by future generations with interests in Wanaka if by our lack of foresight today we fail to take full advantage of the opportunity to plan for and designate an airport capable of taking future jet aircraft," Mr Beattie said.