Wanaka Airport expansion plans get positive reception
Community and stakeholder consultation about the future of Wanaka Airport is fast approaching and all indications point to a robust round of discussions with strong participation from residents and local businesses alike.
The first meeting will be held at the Peak Function Centre, from 6-9pm on May 21, and the second from 7-10am at the same venue on May 22.
Resident and stakeholder input is integral to a master plan for the airport that will be drawn up by Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) as the leaseholder, starting from April 1 this year, for the next 100 years.
QAC has managed the airport since 2010 but the lease transferred operations, planning, development and governance to the QAC, incentivising it to invest in the airport.
Its objective is for the two airports to complement each other, while operating as one business.
Long before such plans reach fruition, there will plenty of deep thinking about how two airports that are 51.5km apart as the crow flies (27.8 nautical miles in pilot terms) will function together.
QAC signalled in its 30-year master plan that Queenstown is expected to reach an unsustainable level of more than five million visitor movements a year (2.5 million visitors/residents), projected to be somewhere between 2020 and 2035. By 2045, that number is forecast to rise to 7.1 million passenger movements, changing Wanaka Airport’s role significantly through load sharing.
In the lead up to community consultation, the mood in Wanaka appeared largely positive about the airport expanding beyond its present general aviation role, as home to a cluster of airport service businesses, charter and recreational flights, the biennial Warbirds Over Wanaka event and NASA’s balloon programme.
But there is also a cautionary vibe about the “big unknown”.
Concerns made by submitters to the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC), and voiced publicly, have ranged from a fear by recreational flyers of being squeezed out, to suspicions the council favoured QAC from the outset, to the exclusion of other parties – all points rejected by the council and airport.
Tick for QAC
Wanaka Chamber of Commerce chairperson, Bridget Legnavsky, doesn’t hesitate in giving a big tick to Queenstown Airport leading the charge on Wanaka Airport’s future.
She’s adamant QAC chief executive, Colin Keel, is the best person for the job, citing his vision, leadership, collaboration, and the way the airport has managed the consultation process to date.
“I’m super excited,” she says, dismissing doubters.
“We all came here at one point and it is our responsibility to set the future right,” she says.
What excites Legnavsky most is business growth potential through the advent of regular domestic flight connections.
“If we take a multi-approach to all inputs and move relatively slowly, gently and clearly, it will work,” she says.
Morning flights connecting through Christchurch and Auckland on small aircraft such as 50-seat Bombardier Q300 aircraft has been touted as a possible service option initially.
Bill Moran, former chief operating officer and deputy secretary of strategy at Treasury, and a professional director, says the government is driving a wellbeing approach to public policy and the airport should take on board this approach, looking at growth, equity, social cohesion, the environmental impact and resilience to shocks such as risks that can’t be perceived, like disease.
QLDC mayor Jim Boult says Wanaka Airport is “enormously important” to the district, employing 300 people.
He said a need for domestic air services out of Wanaka had been expressed by a large number of people in the Upper Clutha, but frequency would always depend on demand.
Jason and Kelly Buick have run their Heliport Services helicopter servicing business at the airport for 10 years, since relocating from Queenstown. Their lease agreement expires in 2033 but they feel confident discussions will eventuate in a positive outcome for them and the airport. QAC people have already paid them a visit.
“You can’t stop growth,” Jason Buick says.
“A lot of the biggest growth around Wanaka has been real estate, but we are also tourism-based and there are quite a few opportunities to drive it.
“This is not just about tenants like us. We are all part of a network.”
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