Our research shows that relocating the airport would have extensive positive effects across 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.
Each of these findings are analysed in detail on separate pages. The following provides a summary.
Frankton residents aspire for a livable, peaceful, connected and vibrant community (Shaping Our Futures, Sept 2018).
The Frankton Vision presented by urban designers David Jerram and Gillian Macleod offers a master plan with which this could be achieved. It depicts a large residential village with an integrated mix of cultural, recreational, retail, commercial and educational amenities - all within walkable distance, creating a vital and cohesive community in the heart of the Wakatipu.
This would be a great place to live. As an alternative to the lifestyle blocks of Dalefield or the many residential areas spreading throughout the basin, it would provide an integrated and wonderfully livable area where kids could get themselves to school and sports, and homes could thrive without cars. With the iconic Remarkables towering to the south, Coronet Peak rising in the north and being the sunniest area in the basin, Frankton could become a destination village - a place where people want to be and live.
In contrast, leaving Queenstown Airport ever expanding where it is, then Frankton Flats would become increasingly noisy and industrial, a place to drive to and from on errands.
This is starkly evident from the $840,000 Frankton Master Plan developed for QLDC by Boffa Miskell. Restricted by the airport and its associated noise boundaries, this plan squeezes massive development onto the Five Mile arterial road in what would surely be one of the most compromised and ill advised urban developments of modern times.
Queenstown Airport's domination of Frankton Flats forces residential development to spread throughout the Wakatipu Basin and to ever more distant options (see Fractured Wakatipu).
The spread population increases the resource impact per house, traffic congestion and road costs, while at the same time reducing the viability of public transport and the access to community, sport and cultural centers. A patchwork of housing developments throughout the Wakatipu erodes the landscape, environment and liveability for all.
In contrast, using QAC land for high density residential development would provide an additional 5,000 dwellings for 12,500 residents. This would create a vibrant, peaceful and livable community that becomes the living, sporting and cultural heart of our district. It would reduce development pressure across the basin and congestion of its roads.
The majority of passengers (57%) using Queenstown Airport are destined, not for the Wakatipu, but for other locations in our region. For them, a regional hub airport in Central offers more convenience and economies.
More than this, a Central airport would facilitate needed growth throughout the region. It would add employment and business opportunities associated with the airport and would stimulate and disperse more visitors into the region’s increasing range of activities and attractions.
As the townships of Luggate, Cromwell, Alexandra, Lauder and others all gain from the additional visitor economies, Queenstown and Wanaka would gain respite from current excessive and unsustainable growth.
The Wakatipu community is currently overwhelmed by tourism and has become a fractured patchwork of residential zones without a central heart.
Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s ‘mood of the nation’ survey found 76% of Queenstown residents think there is too much pressure from tourism - in stark contrast with the rest of New Zealand where 78% are happy with the level of tourism (Mood of the Nation, March 2019).
The location of Queenstown Airport in Frankton, fueled by cheap flights and its developing role as the region’s hub, is a major contributor to locals’ negative perception of tourism. The airport’s decade of rampant double digit annual increases in passenger movements is like growth on steroids, leaving local infrastructure stressed, the community strained and the 'social licence' of tourism under threat.
Relocation of the airport would provide for more sustainable and healthy growth. Only those whose intended destination is Queenstown would arrive into the basin, immediately reducing the impact of the 57% who land and leave.
While Queenstown Bay remains a focus for tourists, it is no longer the centre for our local resident community. Frankton, with its retail, sporting, educational and other amenities has become the locals’ hub. But with the increasing industrial noise of the expanding airport, Frankton is hollow - meeting our functional needs but not becoming our home. Our district has fractured into 32 separate developments, none having the commercial, recreational or educational mix needed for a cohesive community.
Relocation of the airport would provide a unique opportunity to design a vibrant and livable town that would become the community heart of our district.
Tourism has become the largest sector of the NZ economy and principal earner of foreign exchange, but “the recent pace and scale of visitor growth has effectively outstripped the capacity of our system to respond in some areas” (NZ-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy).
As detailed in our “What’s changed” page, the past few years have seen many of our local attractions overrun by visitors, with significant negative impacts. This has challenged the social licence of tourism - the responses of Wakatipu locals being strongly negative with 76% thinking there is too much pressure from tourism in a recent Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) survey (Mood of the Nation, Mar 2019).
Both government and TIA promote a sustainable tourism strategy that seeks to take pressure from hotspots and better disperse visitors into the regions. Air New Zealand also advises we need to deliver visitors to regional hubs “from which they can disperse widely” so that “growth does not either starve or crowd out local communities” (Air NZ submission to QAC, Aug 20, 2018).
QAC’s proposed dual airport strategy would run completely counter to this, landing visitors directly into New Zealand's two premier resorts when both are already overwhelmed. Cheap flights directly into Queenstown and Wanaka promotes volume over quality and undermines all the strategic alignments that would enhance both our local community and the tourist economy.
In contrast, a new greenfield airport in Central Otago would reduce the pressure on these resorts and improve distribution to the increasing Central attractions, adding new vitality to the region.
Chamonix (France) and Whistler (Canada) are each 1:30 hrs and 2:30 hrs from their feeder airports, and this is typical of most international resorts. Relocating the airport to within one hour of Queenstown and Wanaka would not deter tourism. Rather, protecting their environments from excessive aircraft noise would enhance their appeal as attractive destinations.
The dual airport strategy would further fail tourism by locking in two suboptimal airports that undermine current and future tourism potential.
Neither Queenstown or Wanaka airports are capable of runways longer than 1,800m. This eliminates future services by wide-body aircraft and deployment of auto-land technologies. As well as enabling long-haul flights, wide-bodied jets with 302 seats instead of the narrow-bodied 186 capacity, could reduce by 30% the number of daily flights, which may become an airline strategy to significantly reduce emissions.
Aircraft operation and noise has increasingly negative impacts on our outstanding natural environment, constantly eroding the essence of our attractiveness as a destination for tourists. QAC’s site analysis incredibly identifies as a benefit of the dual airport strategy that it would ‘share’ the negative noise impacts - failing to see it would then damage not one, but both locations.
Our ability to deliver high quality and sustainable tourism is best achieved with a new greenfields airport.
Queenstown Airport's domination of Frankton Flats forces all residential development to spread throughout the Wakatipu Basin and to ever more distant options such as Kingston, Gibbston Valley and Cromwell. This forces everyone living in these areas into cars and onto roads to get to school, work, shopping, sport or recreation. The spread population increases the reliance on cars, the congestion of our districts roads and time wasted in travel, while simultaneously reducing the viability of public transport.
In contrast, the intensification of Frankton Flats could provide a large connected, livable, and peaceful community at the heart of Wakatipu. Within a one kilometer radius, residents would have a complete range of excellent facilities, from schools and hospital to sports and commerce, reducing reliance on vehicles and increasing use of active and public transport.
The high level of internal mobility and availability of facilities within Frankton would reduce traffic and congestion on the district’s roads.
Our natural environment is the foundation stone of Queenstown and Wanaka’s value for business and people.
In its analysis of the expanded noise boundaries, QAC completely missed the significance of sound, the sense of aura and space and its contribution to our experience of greatness and wonder in this mountainous region. Instead, its siting study claimed "sharing" the sound effects into both Queenstown and Wanaka as a "benefit" of the dual airport strategy.
It’s clear from the 92.5% negative community response to QAC's noise boundary proposal that aircraft noise is heavily intrusive - not just an irritation at our backyard BBQs - and that it undermines the special value of this region and contributes to degrading our environment. The dual airport strategy would extend this degradation to two of New Zealand’s most outstanding resort destinations.
Our research further shows that the dual airport option would perpetuate exactly the wrong systemic forces that exacerbate climate change, and would diminish the effect of mitigations while raising their costs. In contrast, relocating the airport is perhaps the single most useful action this region could take in its effort to address climate change.
Find out more on our “Responding to Climate Change” page.
In one bold move, the rezoning of Queenstown Airport land as high density residential to contain 5,000 dwelling units would significantly resolve the deficit in lower value dwellings (see Affordable Housing).
As well as construction economies through intensification, the Frankton Flats location enables the lowest cost per unit for infrastructure such as water supply and sewerage.
A key factor further improving affordability is the easy access to all the commercial, cultural, recreational, and educational amenities needed for a cohesive community, reducing dependency on vehicle ownership and associated costs.
Queenstown Lakes District ratepayers are 75% owners of QAC. The dual airport strategy’s substantial new investment across two locations would burden QAC - and by default, QLDC and ratepayers - for decades.
Such substantial increase of debt by QAC would add interest rate costs that would erode its profit, reduce its reinvestment options and stifle community dividends currently used to offset rates.
If new equity was used to fund the dual airport expansion it would add to ratepayer burden. If the new equity was funded by AIA or a new partner, it would dilute ratepayers current shareholder value.
When QLDC is currently cap in hand to central government seeking funding for its one billion dollar transportation plan and pushing for a bed tax to help fund the $374 million infrastructure cost of services for visitors, shouldn’t it at least investigate this opportunity to release $1.2 billion of capital to save QAC from unnecessary, long-term, massive debt?
Frankton Flats is the most central and efficient place to locate sewerage and other infrastructure, and its flat topography and the proposed intensity would make this the cheapest possible installation of services per housing unit. This would reduce the average tax burden on ratepayers.
All the advantages previously listed - from improved housing affordability to better local transport outcomes, from improved environment to the development of a cohesive community heart within the district - further add to ratepayer benefit from relocation of the airport.
It makes no sense to an airline for it to operate from two airports when just one site could service the region. For the airline, such duplication increases cost and complexity while simultaneously reducing the service quality it can provide its clients.
Some costs of duplication are obvious, such as the check-in facilities and employment of staff at two airports rather than one. Less obvious are the site specific training costs for staff and pilots, or that the overheads and operational costs that come from using smaller aircraft that cost more per passenger. Supply lines, logistics and route planning all become more complex, even to the extent of which aircraft to purchase and maintain.
Forced to split flights into two locations reduces the scheduled flights to each airport, so the timing choice and convenience of flights for each airline's passengers are compromised.
The dual airport strategy would result in two airports that would always be suboptimal, constrained by geography, topography and neighbours. Queenstown Airport is rated among the world's least safe for scheduled jets services - adding unnecessary risk to airline operation.
In contrast, a new location could ensure unimpeded, safe landing and takeoff for scheduled air services at the highest level of excellence in an area inflicting undesirable impacts on far fewer people.
The limitations of Queenstown Airport for airlines are glaringly obvious, resulting in them prescribing additional operational limits on their jets, such as reduced wind limits and takeoff payloads reduced by 5,200kg (equivalent to 52 passengers). Neither Queenstown or Wanaka airport could extend their runways sufficient to accommodate wide-bodied jets or to take advantage of auto-land technologies.
In its submission to QAC’s proposed noise boundaries, Air New Zealand advocated specifically for a new regional airport.
“Air New Zealand does not consider increases to noise limits at QAC, even combined with investment into Wanaka Airport, will ultimately be sufficient to sustainably grow visitor arrivals and the associated economic health of central Otago. While QAC has made some initial evaluations of new airport locations in its Master Plan Options, Air New Zealand considers that options for a central Otago terminal justify further investigation.
We believe consideration should be given to the establishment of an airport that can cater for the future growth of all domestic and international travel to Otago, as well as the appropriate transport solutions to disperse those visitors to all central Otago communities.”
It is clear that a new greenfield airport would be better for airlines.
All the ancillary businesses that rely on the airport or form part of the air transport ecosystem would be better off if the airport was relocated to a new greenfield site rather than using the dual airport strategy. This includes the 168 tenant businesses employing some 900 staff across Queenstown and Wanaka airports (QAC Annual Report 2018), as well as the airlines, border control, vehicle rentals and the many others within the supply chain.
Under the dual airport strategy most of these businesses would incur additional costs without any market size benefit.
They would face, for example, two lease costs instead of one plus the duplication of overhead costs for physical fitout and operational costs for phone and power charges. They would also incur the complexities and logistical costs of employing and managing their workforce and services in separate locations.
With Frankton land being some of New Zealand’s most expensive, businesses face high costs for office, warehouse or industrial premises.
Airlines, New Zealand Immigration, retailers, vehicle rentals, and others would be saddled with higher costs that would forever reduce their potential profits.
This would be greatly alleviated through relocating the airport, where land would be cheaper and plentiful. The opportunity to focus into a single location would improve business bottom lines and so be better for our regional economy.
Relocation would also assist businesses to attract and retain long-term staff. A major issue for both employers and workers in this district is the cost of housing - many employees would welcome the opportunity to live closer to work and have access to accommodation options that are more affordable.
For those business currently based at Wanaka Airport, the dual airport strategy threatens their long-term viability, as the increasing demands of an international airport on both the runway and airspace would likely crowd our innovative enterprises such as Nassa’s balloon programme, as happened to the Aeroclub in Frankton.
One of the biggest winners would be the Queenstown Airport Corporation itself. We detail this in the "Financial case". In summary, for QAC relocation would:
With all these benefits adding to its long-term profits, strengthening its balance sheet, improving its assets and capability, providing a better service for its customers and contributing to a healthier and more sustainable community, it is difficult to understand why the executive and directors of QAC steadfastly resist a comprehensive evaluation of the relocation of Queenstown Airport.
Across every sphere of the community and economy, from local to regional and national, a single greenfield regional airport appears to be a better and more logical option than QAC’s dual airport strategy. In one stroke, it would accelerate multiple benefits while mitigating many of the region’s problem issues.
Yet QAC executives present their directors with a dual airport fait accompli, and Mayor Jim Boult dismisses discussion of the relocation option (we respond to his concerns here).
Surely now is the time to look at viable options. Relocation is a viable option - but so far, QLDC and QAC are refusing to properly investigate it.
In this case, it seems, the leadership is left to us, the community. As the ratepayer owner, do you think the Mayor, councillors, and directors of QAC should properly investigate the option to relocate the airport?
They are unlikely to unless the community pushes them to do so. It is always easier to go with the status quo, rather than investigate blue sky alternatives. But often, as is the case here, the status quo is not the right answer for the long-term.
Use the links below to learn more