No decision on jet service, court hears

Establishing a commercial jet service at Wanaka Airport was the "current thinking" of the Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) early last year but there had been no decision to do so.

That point was reaffirmed in submissions to Justice Gerard van Bohemen in the High Court at Queenstown yesterday by QAC lawyer Chris Curran.

QAC and the Queenstown Lakes District Council are respondents in a judicial review brought by the Wanaka Stakeholders Group, which opposes development of the airport for jet services. It wants the 100-year lease provided by the council to QAC to be scrapped.

Mr Curran said in his written submissions the evidence of QAC chief executive Colin Keel was the corporation "did not have any definite plan for whether, or how, Wanaka Airport would develop, let alone made any decisions to implement a plan" when the lease was signed in March 2018.

"The introduction of scheduled flights, including code C aircraft [eg. Boeing 737, Airbus A-320], was an option that we were interested in exploring.

"However, we did not know whether that was a viable option, technically or financially."

When Mr Keel spoke to Wanaka stakeholders in April 2019, he outlined the QAC’s "current thinking" which was that "Wanaka Airport could develop as a regional airport capable of supporting scheduled domestic services using turbo-prop and narrow-body jet aircraft".

Mr Curran said although no decision had been made, the idea it had been had persisted through the four days of the hearing.

Most of his written submissions focused on the relationship between QAC and its majority owner, the council.

Mr Curran said the lease was "explicitly subject" to the statement of intent process, providing the council with control over Wanaka Airport.

"The statement of intent is an annually updating control mechanism, to which the lease has always been, and remains, expressly subject."

Mr Curran pointed out the "harm" to the QAC if the lease was voided, referring to time spent negotiating leases, progressing the airport’s master plan and engaging with the community.

"Mr Keel’s evidence is that these investments of company time and money would be wasted if the lease were now set aside."

The case is expected to conclude today.

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