Relentless growth of Queenstown Airport consumes Frankton

The Cuckoo in the Nest

The image above captures the relentless growth that has seen a provincial aerodrome located near Queenstown become the international airport that consumes Frankton.

Previously there had been an acceptable coexistence between the airport and the community. The extent of current and proposed growth, however, means there is now an unresolvable conflict between the desires for airport expansion and the desires and aspirations of our local community.

As the cuckoo in the nest, the small local airport was valued, with locals enjoying the benefits of convenient access and the boost in tourism that proximity enabled.  But no one ever envisaged the extent to which the airport would grow into the regional ‘hub’ for the lower South Island, consuming the town it helped form.

Queenstown Airport proposed expansion of noise boundaries

Can you hear me?

Queenstown Airport Corporation's (QAC) proposed expansion of its noise boundaries has become a tipping point. Their five-week consultation yielded 1,505 submissions, the largest public response to anything this district has ever had by some distance. A conclusive 92.5% of submissions opposed the expansion, with just 3.7% in support. Notably, opposition came from across a broad spectrum of the community and commercial sectors.

It's clear that the airport has lost a large block of its social licence as people and business increasingly value the outstanding environment ahead of airport growth.

The most important focus for much of the community is to stop the expansion of noise boundaries. This is central to our view also.

As we considered the effects of a cap on flights into Queenstown, we became concerned for the residents of Wanaka. The implications of QAC's dual airport strategy meant that capping passenger movements into Queenstown at 3.1 million would divert 4 million into Wanaka by 2045, making it the larger regional hub. Not something we imagined the people of Wanaka would want.

This caused us to look more deeply and we have been surprised by what we have learned.

When, for example, we reconsidered the potential relocation of Queenstown Airport to somewhere within one hour's drive, our evaluation drew conclusions directly opposite those made by QAC. Where QAC determined that cost was a barrier, we found that relocation would provide the best financial outcome - by far. Even if there was no growth in passenger numbers!


Our investigation indicated that relocating the airport would have significant positive effects across almost all sectors. It would be better for Frankton, the Wakatipu, Wanaka, and the region. Better for the community, tourism, local transport, the environment, and global climate change. Better financially for housing affordability, for ratepayers, for the airlines, and for Queenstown Airport Corporation.

So how come, we wondered, that this wasn't obvious to everyone? Partly, we expect, because change from the status quo seldom is. But also because it's not easy to unravel the financial and other costs and benefits of an option that is never discussed and is not favoured by QLDC or QAC.

So we have undertaken to start the conversation by providing what we have learned on this website. We encourage you to review our evidence and evaluation and draw your own conclusions. 

Cu tourism slowdown?

Additional Information

A brief slowdown in tourism growth is not the solution.

Reasons for this current respite in excessive growth include the concern among some Europeans regarding the impact of flights on climate change, together with a projected softening of the world economic outlook.

But, as the Aviado Demand Forecasting report produced for QAC (May 2018) clearly states, such downturns don’t last, demand recovers and growth booms again.

The Aviado report highlights that Asia will provide the largest growth in demand for tourism to New Zealand. This was also highlighted in the NZ Tourism Strategy consultation document.

“IATA (source IATA 20-year Forecast) has revised the 20-year average annual growth rate to 3.6% and estimates that the Global Aviation market will nearly double to 7.8 billion passengers by 2036."

The Aviado report notes that aircraft manufacturers are more bullish on growth than IATA. According to Aviado:

  • Boeing’s Current Market Outlook 2017-2036 is that the global 20-year growth rate is 4.7%, with the Asia Pacific region even higher than that at 6.2%. They also forecast that the demand between Australia and New Zealand (and within Australia and New Zealand) is forecast to grow 3.9%.
  • Airbus’s current estimates are that global 20-year growth rate is 4.4% and Asia Pacific region is 5.6%. They also forecast that the demand between Australia and New Zealand (and within Australia and New Zealand) will grow 3.9%.

Considering this report, and because Flightplan2050 has always taken the long term view, we consthat planning on the basis of a perceived downturn in tourism is not a valid position to work from.

Queenstown AIrport relocated into Wanaka

Does this make sense to you?

Because we are so used to Queenstown Airport sitting in the middle of Frankton, it is hard to understand how illogical this site has become for an expanding international airport.

So for comparison, in the map above we show the airport relocated into a similar position in Wanaka. Use the link to see how well this works out.