After almost a year of rumour and speculation, Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) has finally revealed significant details for Wanaka Airport. Fears that jet planes will be landing in Wanaka have been confirmed as QAC released a statement saying “we are planning to develop a regional airport at Wanaka that will support scheduled domestic services using turbo-prop (Q300 and ATR) and narrow-body jet (A320/21 and B737) aircraft beginning with about a handful of such services and for several years thereafter.”
QAC went on to state; “We are not planning to accommodate wide-body aircraft or a large international airport at Wanaka Airport.”
First impressions on this statement is that Wanaka Airport would therefore just be a domestic airport, but the keyword in the above sentence was “large”. Naomi Lindsay, communications manager for QAC says “Large equals wide-bodied jets which opens up a whole different market,” but it doesn’t preclude narrow-body jet planes from international airports.
Lindsay goes on to say, “Based on natural demand over time we would look at Trans Tasman narrow-body services which may start much like Queenstown did with the odd charter flight for the ski season.”
Based on how the ‘odd charter flight for the ski season’ has morphed into a behemoth over the years in Queenstown, the same could reasonably be expected of Wanaka, and that’s precisely what opponents are fighting.
Michael Ross from the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) says, “We feel shocked seeing the proposed plans in the cold light of day. Is this the end of Wanaka as we know it? Most of all we feel totally betrayed by our local council who appear hell bent on a growth agenda which their community is clearly opposed to.”
QAC said they are developing a dual airport model for Queenstown and Wanaka airports however “Given the detailed planning and construction required, it is unlikely that scheduled domestic services would begin at Wanaka Airport before 2025. We plan to continue to enable the diverse general aviation activities and events currently at Wanaka Airport.”
Ross says “The WSG fails to see how an investment of this size (reportedly $400million) could be funded by a ‘handful of flights.’ This does not make economic sense in terms of an infrastructure investment of this size—even a long-term one such as an airport. Who is going to fund the under-utilisation of this investment?”
“Our only possible assumption for such a significant investment is that restrictions in and around ZQN will ultimately be serviced by additional flights/visitors coming in through Wanaka to feed visitors through to their ultimate destination at Queenstown,” said Ross. “[And] if the length of the runway is to be 1900 metres—including regulation runway end safety areas (RESAs)—then this would make Wanaka’s runway longer than Queenstown. This could make Wanaka a more attractive and safer place to land—which in turn may influence airlines, pilots and indeed the customers who fly into this region. What does that mean for Wanaka’s future? Could Wanaka surpass Queenstown as the main airport destination for the region?”
Ross questions QAC’s approach to organic growth based on the odd charger flight. “As soon as you have a 1900 metre runway it becomes the same as ZQN—so in ten years time we are truly going to be looking like Queenstown 2.0.”
The role of council in the latest announcement is also under the spotlight. On previous occasions Mayor Boult had given assurances the airport expansion would only be domestic. So the change in QAC’s agenda may have even blindsided him, or he knew all along, or there is internal tension between QAC and its majority stakeholder, QLDC.
When The Wanaka Sun asked Mayor Boult whether he had been blindsided about the announcement to go international, he said “As far as I am concerned the priority and focus for the development of Wānaka is to provide valuable regional services for the Upper Clutha, and this reflects the discussions that have been held with QAC representatives. It’s important to remember that QAC is still in the planning process and therefore will continue exploring a variety of concepts until a draft plan is put to the community and stakeholders for feedback. My wish, however, remains seeing domestic services for the local market improving links for both businesses and community needs.”
The WSG is now an incorporated society and are soon to launch their website and enable individuals to join the organisation. They will be launching a membership drive and commencing fundraising so they can then formally challenge these proposals
“After all, who is wanting all this?” asks Ross. “Not all the community—it’s simply profit-motivated corporate activity for and on behalf of non-resident companies who aren’t even based here or pay rates!”
QAC have also released details of future workshops, consultations, lunches and online discussions to which all members of the public are invited. QAC said, “We encourage you to register on our online forum our.wanakaairport.com.”