The Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes have heightened awareness of natural hazards in our region, amplified by research indicating we are overdue for a catastrophic quake along the Alpine Fault.
As a major resort, we must retain the capacity to evacuate people en masse when such an event occurs. With the potential closure of both our Kingston and Kawarau Gorge access roads, air transport must be a cornerstone of our emergency preparedness.
For example, Royal Australian Air Force C-17s (pictured) undertake training flights at Queenstown Airport. The C-17’s massive load capacity, ability to handle very short runways (1,070m), cope with rough and unsealed strips and turn on a dime make it an important part of evacuation plans.
The eight Royal Australian Air Force C-17 aircraft (pictured) train as part of New Zealand disaster preparedness.
This large transport aircraft specialises in short take off and landing (STOL) and is able to operate on runways from 1,064 meters long and as little as 18 meters wide.
WIth the ability to reverse their jet engines, they can three point turn at runway's end.
The essential capacity to be able to airlift many thousands of people daily from Wakatipu Basin, is not a block to the relocation of Queenstown Airport.
We could, for example, take a page from Singapore’s copybook for preparedness. In addition to its two public and six military airports, Singapore designates several stretches of its freeways for emergency military aircraft use.
We could do something similar with the Ladies’ Mile straight and have the Governor General designate it as a Lifeline Utility under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002.
With a useful 1,700m of flat straight strip and clear flight paths, it could be designed to meet the requirements of a C-17 or RNZAF’s C-130Hs.
The additional costs would be relatively minor and construction could be accommodated through progressive upgrades over the years before the airport was finally relocated. The key would be with planning to ensure that appropriate setbacks are put in place as part of the district plan. This could be achieved as part of rezoning applications or through use of the Public Works Act.
The widened zone would provide an enhanced transport link for the Wakatipu road network and entrance for the district. Power and telecommunications services would be underground. New tree planting could be located at the outer limits of the widened setback to allow the removal of existing trees and hedgerows, with the extra width landscaped to provide a beautiful entrance to the district.
Streetlights at the intersections and road signage could be designed to be hinged, allowing them to be easily lowered flat to the ground during emergency use or training exercises. Roundabouts at intersections could be constructed in modular form (think pizza slices), enabling them to be easily towed from the roadway by any SUV vehicle during a civil emergency. The roadway could be widened and aircraft turning circles installed at each end. The roadway shoulders, berms, longitudinal drains and culverts could be engineered to be flush so as to avoid hazard for landing aircraft.
With proper management, the use of Ladies Mile as an airstip during an emergency would still allow free traffic flow throughout the district. The Lake Hayes Estate and Shotover Country subdivisions could have managed access through the western roundabout of Ladies Mile to Shotover Bridge or Lower Shotover Road. Similarly, traffic from the Shotover Bridge could be managed through the same roundabout into Lower Shotover Road. Future subdivision of the land to the north of Ladies Mile could include secondary road access to Lower Shotover Road. During the period that it is used as an emergency runway, a good management system could also enable regular or scheduled vehicular access to the Ladies Mile road if this was needed.
Using such an approach, it's clear that the need for an emergency capability to evacuate large numbers of people by air from the Wakatipu is possible without having Queenstown Airport located in Frankton.
Far fetched? No, it's easily done. At 1,700m it's 58% longer than minimum for the C-17. The aircraft's capacity to use backcountry, even unsealed runways, and its multiple wheels to spread load means upgrading the roadway as an emergency backup would not be challenging.
RAAF C-27 Spartan practices landing on Australia's Nullabor highway
In this exercise, 370 Nato aircraft landed and were serviced on the German Autobahn
These C-130s are the same as currently flown by New Zealand Royal Air Force. They can easily land in the available length of Ladies Mile
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