Opinion: Is QLDC or QAC in charge of our future airports?

by John Hilhorst - Jun 22, 2019


Queenstown resident John Hilhorst questions who is driving the decision making process regarding the future of both Queenstown and Wanaka airports? The Queenstown Lakes District Council as 75% owner representing the residents, or the Queenstown Airport Corporation representing their own corporate interests and those of their shareholders - including Auckland International Airport?

John Hilhorst is part of the Flight Plan 2050 group that is opposed to Queenstown airport expansion.

We are at a critical stage in the development of Queenstown Airport. Forecast passenger demand exceeds the airport’s capacity constraints, placing Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) and its majority owner Queenstown Lakes District Council at a crossroads where they must choose from three distinctly different growth options. These are:

  1. A cap on numbers at Queenstown Airport, with excess demand redirected to Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.
  2. Relocation of Queenstown Airport to a new site that could accommodate the forecast demand more safely, efficiently and with fewer negative impacts.
  3. A dual airport strategy that retains and expands Queenstown Airport and substantially develops Wanaka Airport to enable demand to be split between the two.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the choice, once made, will shape Queenstown, our district and this region for the next 50-100 years.  

John Hilhorst mug shot2

John Hilhorst - a former Wakatipu High School economics teacher who has lived in Queenstown since 1995.

Such a decision should be well informed and carefully considered, based on solid analysis of all three options. It should be made by our community leaders - our councillors - after wide consultation and with our best long term strategic interests at its centre.  

But this is not the case.

QAC alone has decided on the dual airport strategy, with information released in the public realm limited to arguments supporting this approach. Recently released reports reveal QAC has given scant time to researching, analysing or assessing the other two options.

Our councillors’ opportunity to direct QAC to first seriously analyse and evaluate these other options - before taking irreversible action under its preferred dual airport strategy - will be this Thursday, June 27, when they vote on QAC’s Statement of Intent.

It is council’s role to ensure QAC’s SOI reflects and enables council’s strategic intent for our community, environment and district. Should this not be the case, they have the power under schedule 8 of the Local Government Act 2002 to direct QAC make changes to its SOI.

FlightPlan2050 made an Official Information Request seeking the information QAC had used to decide on its dual airport strategy.  After nine weeks, QAC finally made this information available - to the public on its website.

Given the enormous consequences of the decision being made, we had expected there to be depth and substance to QAC’s research, analysis and evaluation - a range of reports, summaries of workshops, serious comparative financial analysis, comparison of environmental, community, infrastructural and other effects across the three options.  Instead, QAC produced a 12-page report that looked like a brochure in style and substance.

Despite stating that alternative potential airport sites raised by previous airport studies would be included, the most viable options were totally missed out. The limited analysis of other sites was narrow and shallow. Pretty graphics, but zero evaluation.  The report would have garnered only an ‘Achieved’ grade at NCEA level I

Why, for example, did it choose to develop two airports that could only ever carry narrow bodied jets, instead of one that could take the more efficient widebodied jets? There is no rationale offered. Perhaps because there isn’t one?

As well as the lack of substance behind the question of possible alternative sites, there is zero assessment of the question of whether to completely relocate the airport.  

Nowhere is the potential value of QAC’s Frankton Flats landholding identified. Nor the resultant advantages of building one airport debt free, versus almost totally rebuilding two airports constrained by topography, community, safety issues and long-term debt.

Our community’s future and the character of our district is being railroaded by an airport company that is acting in its own narrow, short-term business interests.

Ironically, our independent research has shown that relocating the airport to cheaper land, and raising $1.2 billion from selling the Frankton Flats landholding, would save QAC millions in debt, making it a more profitable company better able to serve its clients, shareholders and community.

Back to the SOI being presented to Council this Thursday. We understand from comments made recently by both Mayor Boult and QAC executives that it will include extending Queenstown Airport’s noise boundaries and pushing ahead with QAC’s mooted dual airport strategy.  Despite vehement opposition from submitters, community associations and businesses in the Wakatipu and strong opposition emanating from Wanaka.

 We call on council to push pause on QAC’s plans and insist on inclusion in its 2019 SOI that it:

  • Commits to a full and objective study of the other two options - relocation of the airport or redirection of flights - prior to any irreversible action on the dual airport strategy.
  • Commits to placing the final decision within the context of QLDC’s master plans for both Wanaka and Frankton, plus the spatial plan that is to be developed by QLDC and MBIE as part of the government’s visitor levy agreement.

Properly implemented, these moves should ensure the final QAC plan reflects both council strategy and community aspirations.

That is what our councillors have the right and responsibility to achieve.


See FlightPlan2050.co.nz for more information and analysis.


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