Wanaka international airport idea condemned

Wanaka Airport. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Wanaka Airport. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

Turning Wanaka Airport into an international destination would "devastate'' Wanaka, according to a visiting American airport builder.

Jim Head has been laying down runways and taxiways in the United States for almost 30 years.

One of his projects was Denver International Airport, which is the biggest in the United States.

He believes the decision to build it "way out in the country'' was the right one, and it would also be the right decision for the south of the South Island to build an international regional airport far from town, serving as a hub for the whole southern region.

It is the scenario already suggested by Air New Zealand but is in contrast to plans being investigated by the Queenstown Airport Corporation [QAC] to expand Wanaka Airport to reduce pressure on Queenstown Airport.

The QAC has dismissed the idea of a new airport at Castlerock/Five Rivers, near Lumsden, and Hawea Downs because of infrastructure issues and distance from Queenstown.

Mr Head, who is a regular visitor to New Zealand but was visiting Wanaka for the first time this week, said he was "taken aback'' by the beauty of the area.

He considered developing Wanaka Airport would be "the easy part''.

"You just throw money at a big block of land and voila, you have an airport. But what it would do to the surrounding infrastructure, I think it would just be devastating.

"The most beautiful part of New Zealand would still be beautiful, but nothing's beautiful when you're stuck in traffic.''

Mr Head said in the United States, planners had "figured out finally'' airports should be built "way out in the middle of nowhere''.

Denver, Dallas and Atlanta were examples.

"Build some decent rail connections or some big freeways and it all works out.''

Mr Head said "back in the old days'' airports were built close to town, but in the United States many of those had been closed down or used as "reliever airports'', often just for general aviation.

He believed building a major airport close to a city unable to withstand the infrastructure improvements required ``would just, I think, be a real mistake.''

"I can understand how someone in Auckland or Queenstown thinks this is a great idea, but it will devastate Wanaka.''

He did not believe the problems would be as bad if Wanaka Airport was used for domestic flights only.

QAC general manager of communications Jen Andrews said yesterday it was "still too early in the process'' to talk about details.

"A lot of groundwork is under way as part of the master planning process to understand the Wanaka Airport footprint.''



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