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Queenstown flights: Petition, mayor's letter urges return of air services

May 04, 2020

A Queenstown tourist operator says the aviation industry has not been heard by the government, as it appeals for travel restrictions to be lifted for the town.

Queenstown was the fourth busiest airport in New Zealand before the lockdown. Now at alert level 3, seven airports have a flight service - but not Queenstown.

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker launched a petition last week calling for air services to be restored to Queenstown, with 4800 people signing it as of today.

Queenstown Lakes District mayor Jim Boult has since written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asking that travel under alert level 2 be restored so the domestic tourism market could restart in the region.

Air Milford operations manager Antony Sproull said the small, family-owned business flew tourist flights out of Queenstown to Milford Sound before the lockdown.

The company was working on changing its model, he said, and travel restrictions needed to lift under alert level 2 to allow operators to fly either as freight, repatriation or commercial services.

"It was purely tourism prior to Covid but now we're looking at moving people to and from Queenstown, repatriation of tourists for those stuck here in Queenstown and trying to fill the void with freight.

"We know that Southland and Invercargill is also missing air connectivity, so we're trying to put our hand up and say we're there to help regions that have been left out by the commercial services."

Sproull believed the aviation industry had not been heard by the government.

Despite a $600 million government bailout of the aviation sector, he said there had been no allocation to general aviation.

"Tourism was the biggest export earner for our country and we were a big part of that. Air New Zealand would bring people to Queenstown and people would disperse to these activities that were aviation based. So no, I don't think we've been heard yet.

"It's tough times when you haven't had an aircraft running for six weeks. Machines don't like sitting around and the overheads are ongoing. We can't just mothball this business, there's engineering, there's essential services that need to happen here to keep the machines ready for when we do come to operate."

The political push

Walker has been lobbying the government to lift travel restrictions and restore flights to get Queenstown's domestic market restarted.

"Queenstown, Southland and Central Otago are isolated and need some flight services to return to Queenstown to connect us to the rest of the country," Walker said.

"People in the community are reliant on being able to travel to other parts of New Zealand for work, for medical appointments, visiting family and with the upcoming ski season we need to support businesses in preparing, which requires domestic travel."

Boult said his letter to Ardern aimed to clear the way for domestic tourism to restart.

"The letter also asks for careful consideration of a trans-Tasman bubble, I know we have to be careful that we don't lose the ground we have made to date.''

Boult said the main sticking point with flights coming back to Queenstown did not hinge on "can you or can't you, it's simply can you make economic sense of it given the distancing requirements as they sit at the present time?

"Which is why we're pushing for some freedoms in that regard to enable Air New Zealand to fly.

"I'm sure if Air New Zealand can make economic sense of it they will fly here. I've had a number of discussions with them, they are as keen as we are to get business back up and going again, but they can't make sense out of it the way it is at the present time.''


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