Airport’s planned fees raise concerns

Wanaka Airport. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Wanaka Airport. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Wānaka Airport is overstaffed and safety repairs are urgently needed, a hearing was told yesterday.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council has proposed changes to some of its fees and charges and, after taking submissions on them, a hearing took place yesterday.

In a written submission on behalf of the Wānaka Airport Users Group, Don Grant said he could understand why the landing fee charges were set to increase — $10 to $13 — after not being raised in the past 11 years.

But in his written submission, he said the group had issues with the way the airport was operating.

The group was made up of more than 80 aviation businesses and individuals.

"We would like to submit that the management of the airport is costing the council and ratepayer far too much money and can be done far more economically.

"There are three airport managers plus ground staff and a fee of $300,000 to manage the airport. While air traffic has increased recently, this doesn't in itself mean that you need more managers. Pilots coming to and from Wānaka all manage their own flights, landings and take-offs with no input from airport staff."

The airport could be managed by one part-time manager dealing with safety issues and the ground staff.

"Putting up landing fees and ground rentals without looking at the over-management of the airport will push people away from the airport. Already many businesses who want to expand can't, due to a lack of long-term leases, leaving business owners wondering if the council doesn't want general aviation at Wānaka."

The runway, which many aviators use with their older tail-wheel planes, was now a big safety issue and needed urgent repair. The group had offered their services to carry out the work, but had been repeatedly turned down.

Airport user Shane Gilbertson said in a written statement he did not mind an increase in landing fees but "we are presently landing on one of the roughest grass runways in NZ for public use".

He had been part of a group to help rectify this but nothing had been done.

He also said it was entirely appropriate to have a multiple-landing fee for local private aircraft.

Mooring fees were also set to increase in the district, in some cases by more than 200%.

A uniform submission form signed by many submitters said the proposed increase did not reflect user-pay charges or actual cost recovery by the council.

Mooring owners were already required to conduct and supply their own mooring inspections every two years. These inspections must cover the entire mooring system.

The council proposal was therefore an unnecessary and an unjustified duplication of cost and resources — "mooring owners will have to pay for the same inspection report twice", they said.

The council in its comments on submissions said the airport was among the busiest general aviation airports in New Zealand. An increase to $13 would bring Wānaka to mid-table when compared with all New Zealand airports.

The management overhead was reasonable given the number of movements at the airport and the asset management required. The work needed at the airport was part of the planned capital-works programme.

The council said on moorings the current fees were set in 2011 and needed adjusting to reflect the increase in costs.

It was recovering reasonable costs for administering functions.