'Parochialism' cited as airport obstacle

Wanaka Airport. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Wanaka Airport. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Wanaka Airport might already be a major commercial airport if it was not for the "parochialism" of Queenstown politicians and business interests in the 1980s.

That is the conclusion to be drawn from a 1987 report released by the Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) this week.

The author of the 63-page Southern Lakes Regional Airport study, R.L. Ayers, said the public had been suggesting international airport sites "close to almost every town".

"There is a growing awareness of the importance of scheduled air services and in particular of the contribution they make to tourism."

Mr Ayers's report was written two years before jet services began at Queenstown Airport and he noted "a strong feeling" in the Queenstown community "urged on by leading citizens" that a jet service, with "a direct flight to and from Auckland", would make all the difference to tourist numbers.

Pilots on the other hand were concerned about the suitability of Queenstown Airport, and Frankton residents were concerned about the noise.

"It would seem, however, that a jet service is a means of putting the town more squarely on the tourist map, and this in particular is being used as a broom to sweep objections aside."

Mr Ayers favoured a move to Remarkables Station, although, if that proved too expensive, then Queenstown Airport could become a "feeder" airport for a regional hub "perhaps at Wanaka".

However, Wanaka Airport had been "caught in the crossfire of local politics and numerous business interests", he said.

While it had excellent potential, Wanaka and Queenstown competed in the tourist industry "and the majority of the Queenstown Lakes District Council members represented Queenstown".

"Of the 14 councillors only three represent the Wanaka area with the inevitable result, no matter how much this is denied," he said.

The mayor was "on record as having said that there are no funds for further development, feasibility studies or airport planning" in Wanaka.

Mr Ayers regarded Wanaka Airport from a "purely operational point of view", the best sited of any aerodrome in the region.

"Wanaka has the potential to be a regional airport, but this would seem to be unlikely.

"It is on the edge of the Central Otago region, it is on the edge of the main tourism areas, and it seems unlikely that Queenstown interests would permit any development seen as threatening."

The QAC is now planning to spend up to $400million developing Wanaka Airport for commercial flights, to share Queenstown's load.

The nature of that load is referred to in the latest 12-page Arup report, which says the two locations would share the "noise impacts" to the extent that by 2045 Wanaka would have similar noise levels to Queenstown Airport in 2025.

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