QLDC starts to get tough with Queenstown Airport Corporation

by Peter Newport - Jan 25, 2021

After years of debate the Queenstown Lakes District Council has made a move that will please residents who have been saying the Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) has not been listening to their main shareholder – local ratepayers.

Mayor Boult - seeking to distance himself from a close relationship between QLDC and QAC?

A draft Statement of Expectations, to be tabled at a full council meeting this Thursday, lays down the way QLDC expects the QAC to consult with the council as its 75% shareholder, including more clarity in strategic planning, clearer Statements of Intent and more community consultation.

The draft Statement of Expectations has already been supported by 25% shareholder Auckland International Airport Ltd (AIAL).

The document calls for more meetings between the airport corporation and council, as well as defining exactly how QAC needs to listen to the community:

“The QAC will maintain a proactive consultative relationship with the local communities affected by the operation of the airports and consult with them in a meaningful way on any masterplans covering the future development of the airports. “

Source: QLDC draft Statement of Expectations – January 2021.

The QLDC document also pushes QAC towards greater cooperation with Dunedin and Invercargill airports, to potentially head off the Tarras airport challenge from Christchurch Airport.

“The QAC has established a Memorandum of Understanding with Dunedin Airport and Invercargill Airport to foster a collaborative working relationship and to facilitate greater cooperation. QLDC supports and endorse this initiative and expects that any actions arising from the MOU will be consistent with all other expectations set out in this SOE and provisions of the SOI. “

Source: QLDC draft Statement of Expectations – January 2021.

Councillor Gladding - document is heading in the right direction.

The document also makes it clear that QLDC is consulted on any future land acquisition or disposal, that climate change is taken seriously and that wide bodied jets for Wanaka or Queenstown airport are “not contemplated.” Narrow body jets are not mentioned.

On the specific subject of the proposed International Airport at Tarras the draft document makes it clear that QAC is expcted to fight the proposal as best it can:

"The moves by CIAL to purchase land to develop an international airport at Tarras presents, in the shareholders opinion, potential new competition into the air travel market in the region. It is conceivable that this proposal could impact the QAC and it is therefore our expectation that QAC’s strategic planning will reflect the need to understand and plan for any activity created by the Tarras proposal.

The QAC will protect the operational and financial position of the company within the frameworks of the Commerce Act. QLDC expects that any action taken to protect the company must be consistent with the expectations set out in this document."

Source: QLDC draft Statement of Expectations – January 2021.

The draft Statement of Expectations has been given a cautious welcome by Councillor Niki Gladding who has previously been critical of QAC operating in what appeared to be relative isolation from the council and ratepayers of the district.

"The councillors have done a lot of work on this document and in my opinion have had significantly more input than we had last year.  So, for me the process has been good but it's not as I would like it to me - yet.  

"The Masterplanning process has been side-lined in this SOE in favour of a Strategic Plan but the requirement to consult on that has been intentionally excluded.  

Airport CEO Colin Keel. The draft document calls on QAC to consult in a "meaningful way" with local ratepayers.

"I think we need to state that we expect that QAC will consult with the community on the Strategic Plan and we need to ensure there will be no development of aviation infrastructure until the Plan is complete and included in an SOI.  

I'd also like to see an expectation that General Aviation can't be compromised in order to expand jet operations - the GA community is hugely important to our communities and I think it needs some certainty in tough times."

Council will vote on Thursday on whether to accept the draft Statement of Expectations and present the document formally to QAC.

QAC CEO Colin Keel issued the following comment via his PR advisor Sara Irvine.

"The Statement of Expectations is a shareholder document. I do not agree with your interpretation of the draft SOE (Crux - that QAC had not consulted "meaningfully" or been "succinct" in previous Statements of Intent).  However, I can assure you that QAC will reflect the provisions of the final SOE in this year’s Statement of Intent."

You can read the full, draft document here.


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