Airport supporters need to make views known

Wanaka Airport. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Wanaka Airport. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Not everyone is opposed to the growth of Wanaka Airport and their voices also need to be heard, writes Mike Regal.

In  its mission to stop the Queenstown Airport Corporation introducing narrow body jet flights into Wanaka, the recently formed Wanaka Stake Holders Group (WSG), led by former Waitaki District Council CEO Michael Ross, has gone from a group with a cause to a group on a crusade.

And by crusade, I mean they are non-negotiable.

The WSG has created an environment where those who support the growth of the local airport, including domestic jet services, are either too scared to speak out or simply can't be bothered.

Some have even gone to Mayor Jim Boult directly to express their concerns. Mr Boult has publicly stated the council needs to be cognisant of the fact there are other less vocal voices in the community, many of whom have approached him directly, and they are equally as relevant.

I speak to individuals and local business owners daily. Many are afraid to speak up for fear of being vilified by the WSG or of the possible negative impact it could have on their business. I am one of the few local business owners who has spoken out against them and have already had to contend with suggestions my business should be avoided because I am "pro jet''.

Not for a moment do I believe the WSG is encouraging people not to deal with me, but like Donald Trump, they have provided the fuel and fired up their support base to act.

The WSG claims to have the support of 2400 followers. Much of this support has been achieved by presenting a highly-charged, emotive narrative along with a worst-case scenario based on local airport growth - "clogged streets, millions of tourists flooding the town, in excess of 60 jet flights a day!''

In the real world, worst-case scenarios rarely happen.

It wrongly uses today's technology to paint a picture of what Wanaka could look like in 2045. It uses images of high-altitude jet streams streaking across our local skies when, in reality, jets need to be flying above 26,000ft to leave a jet stream. And it says it is not scaremongering.

I have questioned the criteria the WSG uses to claim it has close to 400 businesses which supports it.

According to figures released to me by WSG, it includes business owners not based in Wanaka and shareholders in a business as a part of that count. Using these broad-brush strokes to define a business, it then goes on to claim it has the support of the wider business community. It does not.

To make itself appear reasonable, the WSG supports the introduction of ATRs and Q300 aircraft to Wanaka airport. ATRs cannot fly fully laden to Auckland, based on fuel safety requirements, which leaves Christchurch as the only option.

Air NZ provided a Wanaka-Christchurch service in the early 2000s and it proved uneconomical. The WSG claims to support the development of general aviation, yet it continues to use noise pollution as one of its major objections to the introduction of jets. Ironically, general aviation, which includes light aircraft and helicopters, is responsible for the bulk of noise and noise complaints at airports.

Over-tourism has been used as a convenient and emotive way of adding weight to the WSG's argument. Based on the existing 400,000 local Wanaka and Upper Clutha passenger movements at Queenstown airport annually, it is most likely a large percentage of those flying in and out of Wanaka on domestic jets would be locals, not tourists.

Tourism is fragile. Many local businesses are reporting a soft June and July, based on the late start to the ski season. That's all it takes. The tourism boom nationally would appear to be over, yet the WSG is only too happy to paint an exaggerated picture of millions of tourists descending upon the town and destroying our precious lifestyles. Nothing like a bit of xenophobia to get your base fired up.

Tourists will continue to come anyway - by car, by bus, by van and bike.

Most likely the majority of tourists flying into Wanaka will be heading for Queenstown. They'll come into town, take a picture of the tree, navigate the maze and head over the hill.

The WSG continues to catastrophise the introduction of jets and would have its supporters believe it is some sort of QLDC/QAC conspiracy set to destroy the town. It is not.

Wanaka individuals and businesses who don't agree with its stand need to speak out and be heard. Michael Ross and the WSG have had far too much of the attention.

It is time to talk about the benefits that locals, businesses and tourists will enjoy from the inevitable introduction of domestic jet services to Wanaka. It is time to add some balance to the debate and move forward.

  • Mike Regal has owned Wanaka business Central Lakes Media Ltd for the past eight years.

 

Comments

Dear Mike Regal, a poor bit of bias and scaremongering yourself. The only ones to have approached the current Mayor are his airline mates who are waiting for the spoils (pun intended). Mike let me tell you what international airports create = mini cities, traffic congestion, paddocks of rental cars, yes noise and ruination of farmland. You don't see that from your office. (I nearly miss pelt that). That is not scaremongering Mike, that is how every international airport in the world rolls. Yes it is a "QLDC/QAC conspiracy set to destroy the town". To return their ancestors gold into their own pockets. Mike, no one does anything for nothing. Theres got to be something in it. You never told how "Central Lakes Media Ltd" will benefit in all this. If any of your supporting businesses really believe a noisy $400 million airport will be of benefit to the natural peace of Wanaka - then let them state the truth that its not the almighty $ that really makes them support you!

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