Airport an issue for whole region

Queenstown Airport, which some would like to see developed into a residential area. PHOTO: DAISY...
Queenstown Airport, which some would like to see developed into a residential area. PHOTO: DAISY HUDSON
David Jerram puts forward the case to move Queenstown Airport.

Our story begins at a workshop of Frankton and Queenstown residents who were asked about their aspirations for Frankton in the future.

The words they used to describe what they wanted were things like community, connected, liveable, quality, peaceful, green.

The words they used to describe what would stop this vision were airport, traffic, growth.

Shifting the airport has been discussed before, but we decided to show the community's vision for Frankton could be achieved if it was removed.

We have designed a vision of the airport land being developed for 5000 houses/apartments, a health precinct, schools and community facilities, a transport hub and helicopter hub - all connected with recreational spaces, the lake and river and close to existing shops, schools and businesses.

This proposal provides many benefits for our district, beyond creating a wonderful, walkable, peaceful environment, including the reduction in need for more residential developments strung out along the region's main roads, causing more and more congestion.

We have now put this vision in front of our community to get feedback and see if people think it has merit. If they don't, at least we have opened the debate beyond the lens provided by Queenstown Airport Corporation's proposal to expand the airport's noise boundaries over 3000 more properties.

For our vision to happen, Queenstown Airport would need to be relocated and we have been publicly castigated for being unrealistic about that. So, let's look at some of the facts behind our proposal.

Air New Zealand CEO Chris Luxon has said we need a new regional airport.

QAC puts the cost of its planned new airport at Wanaka at around $400 million. A greenfield airport would cost this much, plus land. That does not equate to $1 billion, $1.5 billion or $2 billion, as has been claimed.

Under its dual airport strategy, QAC would have to build Wanaka Airport and then upgrade Queenstown's (at an additional cost of $200 million-$400 million), funded primarily by debt.

This debt would be substantial, given QAC's after-tax profit was just $14.9 million in 2018.

Alternatively, QAC is sitting on land with a net value of more than $1 billion, which could be used to fund a new greenfield airport without debt.

QAC figures reveal that more than 50% of Queenstown Airport passengers are going to Wanaka or other parts of Central, so the issue of tourists having to travel through the Kawarau Gorge already exists. Introducing airport shuttles would reduce this traffic and increase safety.

QAC intends to develop Wanaka as a jet-capable runway. From a business perspective, it would seem short-sighted to spend this much money on a runway that could never be extended to take widebody jets.

We do not believe $400 million would be spent to cater for just 400,000 Upper Clutha passengers on a "few flights per day,'' as QAC claims. Build it and they will come.

QAC has projected airline demand for 7.1million passenger movements by 2045. QAC's current plan has 5.1million destined for Queenstown, meaning 2million go to Wanaka.

However, if QAC cannot expand its noise boundaries or afford to buy Lot 6 from Remarkables Park, it will be restricted to 3.1million or fewer in Queenstown, which means more than 4million for Wanaka.

At what point might QAC decide the commercially responsible option would be to cash up its valuable Queenstown land and send all flights to Wanaka?

We understand QAC, as a business and a board, is tasked with building its business and profit. It does not have to consider externalities - costs such as infrastructure, soundproofing, loss of development rights and environmental impacts it imposes on other businesses and our community.

It is not beholden to our community beyond vague commitments in its statement of intent. So it can ignore the 92.5% opposition to its noise boundary expansion plans and ignore opposition from Wanaka over jet services.

Its long-term projections for Wanaka passenger numbers and what happens beyond 2045 are understandably opaque.

But Queenstown Lakes District Council owns 75.1% of QAC, a council controlled trading organisation. On our behalf, these issues should be front of mind - and central to debate - for the council.

Our group's initial focus was developing Frankton into a peaceful, liveable community at the heart of Queenstown. But we have realised this is a much bigger regional issue.

We now believe an independent, holistic regional study should be carried out to identify the best long-term future paths before any irreversible decisions are made by those over whom we have no control.

As Wellington International Airport chairman Tim Brown said (ODT, 4.5.19), "it isn't that difficult and needn't cost ratepayers'' given political will from local and central government. Such political will would need to be community-driven.

For background on our proposal, please see flightplan2050.co.nz

  • David Jerram is a member of the FlightPlan2050 group which launched its proposal to convert the Queenstown Airport land into the liveable settlement of residents' aspirations.

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