Dual-airport approach draws fire

Pictured: Captain Terry Hetherington, member of the Wanaka Stakeholders Group.| Photo: Supplied

Last week the Queenstown Lakes District Council began its review of the draft Statement of Intent (SOI) from Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC); the Intent being heavily scrutinised by some Councillors as well community action groups.

The draft SOI, if approved by QLDC, becomes the approved plan for the next three years. Of concern to Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG), who are lobbying against unrestrained growth of Wanaka Airport, is the terminology “dual-airport” in reference to Wanaka and Queenstown without explanation or definition of this term.
Without clarification, it appears that QAC simply means to divide and conquer with flights split between both airports. In December 2018, 864 flights landed in Queenstown airport; if this was equally split with Wanaka, there would be 14.4 flights (28.8 take off and landings) per day, over the neighbourhoods of Albert Town, Hawea Flat and Luggate. And this doesn’t include current sightseeing and adventure flights already using the airport.

Captain Terry Hetherington, a Boeing 737 pilot from WSG says, “We support and welcome the return of turbo prop services to Wanaka Airport from Christchurch and encourage new turbo-prop services from Wellington and Auckland in a Q300 by either Jetstar or Air New Zealand, as is possible now if Wanaka Airport was certified again.”

What they do not support, is commercial jet services.
Councillor Calum MacLeod went into bat for Wanaka by demanding, “are QAC able to specify turbo-prop aircraft only into Wanaka Airport and exclude jet-powered aircraft?”

It’s a question that has so far, remained unanswered.

Air New Zealand was asked to comment on their regional development plans for Wanaka, and what type of aircraft they were considering. They were also asked if Dunedin and Invercargill had been considered for international flights. At the time of print, no response had been received.

The SOI also introduced more new terminology that has set alarm bells ringing; “Queenstown and Wanaka Airports are part of a national network of critical infrastructure assets [emphasis ours] which connect residents and visitors to the Southern Lakes Region.”

“This needs to be questioned and the implications made clear,” says Hetherington. “There have been conflicting statements made by both QLDC and QAC to the community around projected incoming passengers and the number of flights for Wanaka Airport. Daily large commercial jet flights will vastly change the local environment and community as we currently know it and turn Wanaka into Queenstown 2.0.”

MacLeod has pressed QAC for more specific information in an email to CEO, Colin Keel. “In the absence of quality information the community will fill this void with rumour and supposition. The community urgently needs to know QAC’s vision for the ‘One District - Dual Airport’, as it develops. Can you please fill this void and provide the community with quality information?”

When the Wanaka Sun pressed QAC for answers in regards to the number of flights and type of aircraft to expect, the response was “It is a bit too early to give you the detail you have requested as there is technical work underway to help us understand everything from the airspace to what’s underground at the airport.”

QAC continues; “Ultimately, we’re aiming to bring the long-term planning for Queenstown and Wanaka airports together into a dual-airport proposition at the end of the year. This will provide a 30-year roadmap for sustainable airport growth, including infrastructure development, noise planning and transport connectivity, and will complement regional planning for transport and other infrastructure needs.”

One of the biggest objections by WSG is the lack of disclosure and consultation with the local community. The feelings on unrestrained growth are deeply felt and locals want both the council and QAC to sit up and listen.

In the SOI, QAC have stated "[we] agree to commit to engage with all of the stakeholders involved at the Wanaka Airport and the wider Wanaka community in future planning activities." When the Wanaka Sun pressed QAC for details of this consultation, the response was, “a series of conversations are currently planned with a broad range of stakeholders, including local community members and organisations, the business sector, the airport community, airline customers, etc. These conversations will continue over the next several months in order to discuss planning options, seek feedback and address any misinformation.”

MacLeod’s response was blunt: “I will hold you to this.”

WSG invites all locals to have their vote: Do you believe it’s time for Queenstown Lakes District Council to conduct a fully independent survey asking locals what we’d like to see happen to our airport? Their poll is on the Wanaka Airport Action Facebook page.


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