Time for debate on sharing load?

Invercargill Airport general manager Nigel Finnerty sees Invercargill as a ready-made solution to...
Invercargill Airport general manager Nigel Finnerty sees Invercargill as a ready-made solution to Queenstown Airport’s capacity issues. PHOTOS: LUISA GIRAO
On August 25, Invercargill gets its first direct flight to Auckland. The new Air New Zealand jet service has the backing of Invercargill travellers and also those Queenstowners hoping it is a step towards easing the tourist pressure on their own airport. But, as Mark Price reports, sharing Queenstown’s load with Invercargill is not something the airport companies can legally promote — and the call has gone out instead for an old-fashioned "champion".

In aviation terms, Invercargill Airport Limited (IAL) might be better named Invercargill Airport Unlimited.

It has any amount of space to grow.

That is in stark contrast to Queenstown Airport, under pressure from all sides as it faces forecast big increases in demand.

Diverting some inbound tourists to Invercargill is one of the solutions suggested by those who believe the Lakes District is suffering from "over-tourism".

Retiring Queenstown Lakes District Council member Alexa Forbes is all for "sharing the load".

"What I'm trying to do is begin this conversation about meaningfully spreading the tourism load across the southern region."

She described as a "relatively easy win" tourists flying into Invercargill and making Milford and Doubtful Sounds their first stop on the way to Queenstown.

"That route design could be part of the solution in terms of using existing infrastructure, eg: fly into Invercargill, bus to Milford, bus to Queenstown, pick up a rental when leaving Queenstown to go to the West Coast, Christchurch or Dunedin for a departure flight."

Cr Quentin Smith agreed, questioning whether people were flying into Queenstown because that is "exactly where they want to go.

"If you provided alternative routing options for them would they fly to Invercargill, go to Milford Sound and then come to Queenstown?"

Mr Smith said the Queenstown Airport Corporation's (QAC) preferred option - to spend $400 million developing Wanaka Airport to take some of Queenstown's commercial flights - could lead to the southern region being "faced with having four international-capable airports that service a smaller population than Christchurch.

"You've got to understand what that looks like in terms of efficient provision of air travel."

For more than a year, Cr Forbes has been pressing the QAC to have "meaningful discussions" with its counterparts in Invercargill and Dunedin over shifting some air traffic.

Parts of Invercargill Airport are being upgraded before the beginning of direct flights to...
Parts of Invercargill Airport are being upgraded before the beginning of direct flights to Auckland beginning next month.
It has not happened.

Invercargill Airport general manager Nigel Finnerty confirmed there had been no "formal discussions" although his company was "very aware" of the debate over Queenstown Airport's capacity and alternatives.

"While we see Invercargill as a ready-made solution, we ultimately believe that it will be the airlines in conjunction with QAC that will be the catalyst for any future discussions with IAL."

QAC chief executive Colin Keel said QAC was working closely with Invercargill and Dunedin airports "across a range of areas".

He listed health and safety, operations, sustainability and supporting strategic regional tourism initiatives.

And, he said, QAC supported "the dispersal of air services capacity across the lower South Island".

However, he suggested, it was not for the airport companies to lead the way.

"Ultimately, it is each of our airline partners that determine where the capacity is placed based on commercial and operational considerations, not the airports."

And, Mr Keel added, without explanation, QAC's approach was "consistent with the requirements of the Commerce Act".

That appears to refer to the "restrictive trade practices" part of the Act which prohibits the lessening of competition by such things as "cartels", "understandings" and "arrangements", or "taking advantage of market power".

The Act does, however, enable the Commerce Commission to authorise a restrictive practice.

Cr Forbes described the responses from the two airports as "interesting" and she agreed the airports were infrastructure companies that did not "see themselves as leading these discussions.

"And frankly, nor should they, but they must be part of it and must look to explore possibilities."

Cr Forbes considered discussion was needed "at all levels" but, she was "unclear" about who should lead the discussion.

"These things do need a champion; they need things to start; they need people to come together around these sorts of solutions to problems like this, and I don't know who that person is."

In May, a range of civic leaders said they supported a regional approach, but no "champion" has yet emerged.

Queenstown Lake mayor Jim Boult said a regional approach was "a very sensible one" but it did not remove the need to develop domestic capability in Wanaka, or continue to plan for some forecast demand at Queenstown.

The QAC's plans for Wanaka Airport were originally due to be made public in September but have been put back to a date yet to be announced.

A request to QAC for an interview with board chairwoman Prue Flacks was met with a response that Ms Flacks was "of the view it would be best to have the conversation" when there was new information to share "early in the new year".

At a glance

Invercargill to Auckland direct
flights. —

• Start August 25.

• Depart from Invercargill for Auckland at 6am, arriving at 7.55am.

• Return from Auckland at 7.35pm, arriving in Invercargill at 9.30pm.

• The service will run five days a week from Invercargill on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and return on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

Comments

Lets be serious. Dunedin and Invercargill imply aren't the destination holiday places Queenstown is. If you really want economy of scale to run a decent airport, then build one new airport somewhere for all southern international flights. That somewhere is probably on the flat near to Cromwell. 1/2 an hour to Queenstown and Wanaka, a couple of hours to Dunedin and Invercargill. But noisy parochial voices will ensure logic never prevails.

Hmm. I recently had to go to Invercargill and googled "top things to do in Invercargill". The third item on the list was visiting the hardware store. I'm not convinced it is yet has the magnetism of a popular tourist destination.

KeithMcC = You lost credibility over (1) your lack of knowledge about Dunedin & Invercargil, (2) your massively wrong travel times and (3) with your airport build near Cromwell. Please enlighten us how you will deal with the costs, the lack of clear skies, poor approach paths, the fog, the Kawarau Gorge, the ruination of quiet towns, the lack of infrastructure etc.

Flatplatypus = I suggest you get you borrow another computer and search https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/Attractions-g255120-Activities-Invercargil...

Not only does IVC have the space to grow, it has the infrastructure of a large city literally a short walk from the terminal.
It has the ability now to fly tourists into the south in larger planes and numbers.
It not only can support the tourist mecca of Queenstown, but it has its own tourist gems = Stewart Island, Catlins, is closer to Te Anau Milford than Queenstown, the Oyster festival, the Burt Munro challenge, Country Music at Gore, the cycle tour etc.

However, this about Queenstown – and a 2 hour drive is nothing compared to flying in to other tourist meccas around the world. Even Rotorua is over 2 hours from AKL.