Five questions with Invercargill Airport general manager Nigel Finnerty

Nigel Finnerty shows where the new baggage drop-off area will be. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO
Nigel Finnerty shows where the new baggage drop-off area will be. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO
Q Would Invercargill Airport welcome more traffic?

We certainly have the capacity for more air traffic. Southland and, in particular, Invercargill, is in some ways almost one of New Zealand's undiscovered visitor destinations. We'd welcome more people visiting our place and starting or finishing their New Zealand adventures here. We currently have very good passenger growth, and sustainable air travel options will only help Southland grow further.

Q Who is driving Invercargill Airport's expansion?

Our shareholders, the regional development agency, Great South, the airport company and the Southland community are all clearly focused on ensuring IAL is a sustainable regional gateway. A good example of this is the community drive for increased freight and passenger services which has resulted in the soon to be launched Air NZ jet service between Invercargill and Auckland. This is a significant development that has the potential to generate significant growth opportunities for Southland business.

Q What measures would appear to be necessary to develop more air traffic through Invercargill?

The Southland regional development strategy has several goals including increasing our population by 10,000 people and growing the earnings from tourism to $1billion. The airport has a key role to play in this space. Improved connectivity through the direct flights to Auckland is a game changer for Southland. Not only does it open up Southland to the biggest markets in New Zealand, it opens up the world to Southland. IAL has a critical role to play in facilitating this growth and responding to it.

Q How much capacity does Invercargill have to take more traffic? Or, put another way, what limitations are there at Invercargill on aircraft size, passenger movements, noise boundaries, rental car space, terminal space etc?

IAL has the runway capacity to take jets so aircraft size is unlikely to be an issue, even into the future. Our capacity to handle a busier schedule will come down to how many planes on the ground at once and how many are looking for overnight parking. This may require some future additional apron capacity but that would be more of a medium-term requirement. Our terminal can be expanded relatively easily to provide additional arrival/departure gates and, with some work, we could accommodate more than one major airline. We are fortunate to have land available for camper vans and expanding our rental car facilities. We are already working on potential upgrades for these important members of our airport community

Q Anecdotally, I hear of Invercargill and Dunedin people driving to Queenstown because airfares are cheaper. Air NZ says they are not. Why is there that perception?

We do see Southlanders travelling into and out of Queenstown and Dunedin. In a survey conducted in 2017 it was found that a significant number of Southlanders flew into or out of other airports, including Christchurch. Those airports have direct flights to Auckland and connect directly to Australia. From 25 August, Southlanders will have the opportunity to fly to Auckland from Invercargill direct. There is a real buzz and excitement around this flight, and everyone is looking forward to it starting.

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