Misinformation clouds Wanaka Airport debate

There is little doubt Queenstown Airport will reach its capacity in the near future. PHOTO:...
There is little doubt Queenstown Airport will reach its capacity in the near future. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Misinformation is clouding the debate around the development of Wanaka Airport, writes former Queenstown Airport chair John Gilks. 

We are all entitled to our opinion and should, in turn, respect the opinions of others. However, if we use incorrect assumptions and distorted facts as a means of influencing the opinion of others, that is deceit.

John Gilks. Photo: Mark Price
John Gilks. Photo: Mark Price
Over the past few months I have been frustrated at some of the comments made by those who oppose the development of Wanaka Airport into a jet-capable regional airport.

Having read numerous media articles, it is apparent to me that in many cases assumptions have been shaped to suit the writer's desired outcome, or that of the organisation they represent.

I retired as chairman of the board of Queenstown Airport Corporation Ltd (QAC) in December 2017 having been in that role for seven years.

During the latter period of this term the board and management frequently discussed and considered the "one company, two airport" concept, ie one company, QAC operating dual Wanaka and Queenstown airports.

While my retirement from QAC was almost two years ago, I doubt much has changed from the information available at that time with which I became familiar, and on which the dual airport planning was based. It is because of this background that I find it frustrating and disappointing that the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) seeks to influence others to support its cause based on erroneous statements and misleading information.

I would like to outline a couple of examples.

When entering our local supermarket recently I saw a booth above which was a large sign with the words "no jets into Wanaka".

The purpose of the booth was to encourage people arriving at the supermarket to sign up to membership of the WSG. I decided to ask a couple of questions and approached one of the two people behind the trestles. My first question related to a direct service from Wanaka to Auckland.

My concern was that unless the planning for Wanaka Airport included a direct service to Auckland, it would fail as a regional airport. The response I received from one of the two WSG members was "we do plan to have direct flights to Auckland but using turboprop planes" (ATRs ) My response, that ATRs could not, for several reasons, be used on a direct Wanaka-Auckland route was dismissed by the two WSG members.

My concern was not with what they told me but the fact that the same incorrect and misleading information may be conveyed to any number of uninformed members of the public and in so doing influence their opinion.

To succeed as a regional airport, Wanaka must have appropriately scheduled and fairly priced direct flights to Auckland. This will only be possible using an A320, or similar, jet service. If such service is not provided then, in my opinion, there will most likely be no passenger flights into or out of Wanaka.

My second question was how the WSG had arrived at the conclusion that QAC planned to develop Wanaka airport as an international airport. I was particularly interested in the answer to this question, because during the many discussions and planning sessions held during my time at QAC the prospect of international flights was never contemplated.

The answer I got from the WSG members was based on the level of forecast expenditure along the lines of "it has got to be an international airport to justify a spend of $400million - you could not spend that amount on just a regional airport and, if you did, it would fail.

"And what's more if it did fail, the ratepayers would have to pick up the debt."

This is incorrect and I will explain why.

Wanaka Airport. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Wanaka Airport. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Firstly, the forecast of $400 million is not all expenditure on the airport itself.

My understanding is that the cost of developing a regional airport is less than half of the total amount forecast.

The difference is planned expenditure on aero-related commercial activities and general aviation, many of which are stand-alone revenue-generating activities.

Secondly, the expenditure is planned over a period of 20 years - the master plan period. Thirdly, yes, the project may fail financially if it was a stand-alone venture undertaken by a new entity. But that is not the case. The development would be undertaken, over a considerable period, by a company (QAC) which has a long and successful history, significant cashflow and a strong balance sheet.

If there was a need for the Wanaka development to be subsidised in the early years, then QAC is in a strong position to provide that support.

The claim ratepayers could be called on to make good a financial loss arising from the development of Wanaka Airport is nonsense. In the unlikely event there was a financial loss, it would be taken by the lender.

There would be no recourse for recovery of such loss to either QLDC or its ratepayers.

Again my concern is not that these answers were given to me but, rather, that they may well have also been conveyed to uninformed members of the public and erroneously influenced their opinions.

There have been numerous comments in the recent past related to how QAC is governed.

Examples include "our future is being determined from Auckland" and "we want a greater say and, or, community participation in the running of QAC".

QAC is a council controlled entity (CCTO) under which structure the rules and governance protocols are clearly defined. It is QLDC's responsibility, in its capacity as shareholder, to appoint directors and, in so doing, delegate responsibility for determining company policy and direction to the board of directors.

Having appointed the board and approved, annually, a three-year statement of intent, the council should not interfere or seek to influence policy or direction.

The council's redress, should it be dissatisfied with the performance of the company, is to replace the board.

There is little doubt that Queenstown Airport will reach its capacity in the near future unless noise boundaries at Queenstown are extended and, or, Wanaka Airport is developed into a jet capable regional airport.

If the point is reached where demand for seats outstrips the number of seats available, it will be us, the locals, who will mostly suffer the impact in the form of restrictions on the days and times we are able to travel and likelihood of a significant hike in air fares.

It is regrettable that those opposed to development of a jet-capable regional airport at Wanaka decided to make public their views and actively encourage others to share these views without adequate knowledge of the facts.

This information will be disclosed in the master plan for Wanaka Airport when it is released early in 2020.

Contrary to what some have suggested, the Master Plan will not be a fait accompli but a draft document intended for wide community discussion and consultation.

If after having access to all the information related to development of Wanaka Airport as disclosed people remain opposed, then so be it.

Those opinions should be respected. But to entice support opposing development of Wanaka Airport without this information and based on speculative assumptions and misrepresentation of facts is deceitful.

 - John Gilks is a former chairman of Queenstown International Airport Ltd.


 

Comments

And sadly John, the facts from businessmen like you are all based on the "profit for me".
Have you considered that most Wanaka residents don't want what airports bring. And are you telling us John, that WKA will only eve be a domestic airport??? You are dreaming mate!
We don't even want the jests currently at ZQN.
Yes propellers can fly AKL > WKA. Its only 200 kms longer than one current ATR72 route. Yes refueling will be needed. Speak to Air Chathams as well. They're getting old ATRs.
A predictable biased article.

And sadly John, if you retired in 2017 and the "one company, two airport" concept had been around for a couple of years before that then you are also complicit in not engaging with those who own QAC - and no, that's not QLDC, its the ratepayers of Queenstown and Wanaka who you have conveniently forgotten.

You start your predictable article with
" We are all entitled to our opinion and should, in turn, respect the opinions of others. However, if we use incorrect assumptions and distorted facts as a means of influencing the opinion of others, that is deceit.

OH YES JOHN IT IS - and it does so cut both ways

"Having read numerous media articles, it is apparent to me that in many cases assumptions have been shaped to suit the writer's desired outcome, or that of the organisation they represent" cue QLDC and QAC ....

OH YES JOHN - still sounding like the very familiar wording of its good for us ratepayers and whats a little noise and pollution and overtourism ...

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