Queenstown Airport not in jeopardy: mayor

Queenstown Airport. Photo: ODT files
Queenstown Airport. Photo: ODT files
Those hoping to wave goodbye to Queenstown Airport could be in for a long wait.

Flightpath 2050 members have been upbeat about the prospect of Christchurch International Airport’s newly announced airport at Tarras replacing Queenstown Airport.

A member of the group, David Jerram, who has put forward futuristic designs for alternative uses for the Queenstown Airport land, said after Wednesday’s announcement he was "over the moon".

"Now we can plan to diversify our economy by building an alpine city on the airport land.

"This will provide us with huge economic gains that will make the economic contribution of the current airport to the town seem puny."

However, both Christchurch Airport chief executive Malcolm Johns and Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult expressed a totally different view yesterday.

"I don’t think its days are numbered in any way," Mr Boult said.

In a similar way to other airlines, Air New Zealand had recently "parked up" eight of its 15 Boeing 777 aircraft "in the desert in Australia and I think there’s a fair old chance they will never come out of there".

With significantly fewer aircraft flying "post Covid" and fares likely to be higher, Mr Boult believed it would be a "long, long time" before visitor numbers got back to point where Queenstown Airport was near its current noise boundaries "let alone any extended noise boundaries".

Mr Johns played down the idea his company would compete with Queenstown Airport.

"The forecast for aviation demand in that part of the world over the next 20 years is something around twice to two and a-half times the capacity of Queenstown Airport.

"You’re going to need more airport infrastructure ... to cope with that growth and that’s where this project kicks in.

"In none of our modelling have we assumed the closure of Queenstown Airport."

He could envisage airlines being willing to use both airports.

"I think we’ve got to get ourselves out of this binary thought process that it’s either or.

"If the people of Queenstown so choose that Queenstown Airport is still there in 50 years time, then there will be tailored schedules for people in and out of Queenstown.

"And, that may be a premium proposition."

Mr Johns said Covid-19 had pushed back plans by two or three years but predicted in five to 15 years "you may see works on the site".

The proposed runway would be 2.2km long and able to handle 787 aircraft which, he said, were quieter than an A320 and had lower emissions, which would be increasingly important.

"We’re going to have to do more with less carbon and the only way you can accommodate that in aviation today is with at least a 2.2km runway."

Neither Queenstown nor Wanaka have potential for a runway of that length.

Mr Johns said the focus of the Tarras airport would be transtasman and domestic flights "and there may be some wide body activity on those routes but with that will come lower noise and a lower carbon footprint".

Mr Johns said runways cost about $1 million a metre to build, and a terminal $40 million to $50 million.

"By the time you add all of that up, you will probably arrive at something around $350 million-$400 million as a starting point."

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