Airport expansion plans on hold

Tough border controls have reduced passenger numbers at Queenstown Airport. PHOTO: ODT FILES
The Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) has undertaken not to advance its expansion plans for the next two and a-half years.

The QAC’s new draft statement of intent (SOI) has been made public ahead of it being considered on Thursday by the QAC’s majority owner, the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

The SOI states the QAC "will not apply to expand air noise boundaries at Queenstown Airport, nor progress plans to develop Wanaka [Airport]", over the period covered by the SOI.

The SOI covers the period from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2023.

It said uncertainty caused by Covid-19 meant Queenstown Airport was not expected to reach existing air noise boundaries for "many years".

While it did reiterate previous statements wide-body jets would not be part of long-term planning for Wanaka Airport, it did not rule out introducing commercial jet services at Wanaka at some later point — a prospect that has been strongly opposed by the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG).

A recent socioeconomic impact assessment estimated Queenstown and Wanaka Airports contributed about $526 million to the Lakes district’s $3.06 billion GDP last year.

"About $40 million of this was related to airport operations, and a further $486 million to visitor expenditure attributable to the airports," the SOI said.

However, it noted the rate of growth "began to moderate" last year and had since been significantly impacted by Covid-19.

It acknowledged the pace of recovery "remains uncertain" and it assumes international air travel will not resume until next year.

Forecast total revenue for 2020 was $46,109,000, but less than half ($22,428,000) for next year with a gradual recovery after that.

The QAC expected to pay a dividend of $8,295,000 for 2020 but no dividend in 2021 or 2022. A dividend is forecast in 2023.

It planned to continue with a $36 million terminal upgrade programme, covering seismic improvements to its Queenstown Airport terminal over the next three years, as well as accommodating new passenger security screening equipment.

As part of its financial forecasts, the QAC noted the full extent and duration of Covid-19 were not clear yet, significant elements of its cost base were outside its control and it had significant and ongoing legal costs as a result of a High Court claim brought by the WSG.

Asked to comment on the SOI, WSG deputy chairman Mark Sinclair said it did not address key issues about Wanaka Airport.

"We’re reserving further comment until the High Court judgement comes out sometime in the next few weeks."

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