Several viable sites in this valley

Has QAC been thorough?

QAC's Queenstown Airport Siting Study - April 2017

The Queenstown Airport Siting Study - April 2017 appears to lack the rigor required to support Queenstown Airport’s (QAC) 30-year strategic planning.

We are at a critical stage in QAC’s development. Forecast passenger demand exceeds the capacity constraints of Queenstown Airport, placing QAC at a crossroads where it is forced to choose from three distinctly different growth options. These are:

  1. A cap on numbers at Queenstown Airport, with excess demand redirected to Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.
  2. Relocation of Queenstown Airport to a new site that could accommodate the forecast demand.
  3. A dual airport strategy that retains Queenstown Airport and develops a second airport within the region to enable demand to be split between the two.

The significance of this decision should not be underestimated - this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and the choice, once made, will shape this region for the next 50-100 years.

Such an important decision should be well informed and carefully considered, but this does not appear to be the case.

In response to our Official Information Request that sought details of the assessment and evaluation of potential sites, QAC published five reports to their website (QAC, June 13, 2019). 

Of the five reports, just one relates directly to the current decision process, ARUP’s Queenstown Airport Siting Study - April 2017. It is 12 pages - counting the cover and contents page.

Earlier reports relate to work done in 1995 (190 pages), and in 1987-1988 (197 pages).

While QAC has published the earlier reports along with the recent ARUP report, it does not appear that these reports helped inform QAC or Arup in preparing the recent siting study. 

This is most conspicuous from the absence of several worthy sites that were investigated in depth in the earlier reports. While Arup’s starting list included such unlikely locations as the remote airstrip in Hollyford, it did not identify or include:

  • Cromwell Terraces (Cromwell/Lowburn). This site was analysed in detail in the 1987, 1988, and 1995 reports and separately by Air NZ in 1994. It is an existing airstrip and the earlier reports concluded it to be an excellent site, with more potential for growth, runway length of 2000m, ability to support 24 hour operation and with clearer flight paths than either Queenstown or Wanaka Airports.

  • Mt Pisa Station, on Highway 6 around where Smiths Way joins the highway. The October 1988 report considered it a suitable location for an airport, ranking it ahead of Wanaka Airport and it compared more favourably than Queenstown Airport.

  • Other sites in the Cromwell Valley. The 1995 report states “Visual inspections identified that potential new sites existed in the Cromwell Valley.” The Arup report makes no attempt to identify and assess these possible sites or to include any ‘indicative’ site as suggested on page three of their report.

Arup’s report notes that sites were identified and “shortlisted through a criteria based analysis and workshop with QAC”. On page six it explicitly states the study included “airport sites (including new and existing) considered in previous siting studies provided by QAC”.

Yet the Cromwell Terraces and Mount Pisa sites identified above and analysed in detail in these previous reports - where they were assessed to be highly viable - are absent from either the long or short lists, and there was no inclusion of any “indicative” sites for the Cromwell Valley. 

It is for QAC to resolve this disparity. Given the explicit statement by Arup that “airport sites considered in previous siting studies” would be included, why were these sites that were previously assessed as viable not in the Arup study?

Is the ARUP report adequate?

In twelve pages, including separately the title and contents, the report offers no evaluation and is scant on analysis or detail. More fundamentally, in our view it does not assess either the appropriate criteria or locations needed to inform the fundamental choice - which of the three strategies should be pursued: cap, relocate, or dual airport.

The key elements to this question must include evaluation of:

  1. All the viable alternative sites - not done adequately;
  2. The relative merits versus costs of airports capable of Code E (suitable for wide-bodied aircraft) compared with Code C (narrow bodied aircraft) - not provided at all;
  3. Demand for passenger destinations - not provided at all:
  4. Financial viability - not provided;
  5. Community impact - not provided.

The Arup report offers no useful insight on any of the five criteria above.

It does not, for example, include analysis of several key viable sites. Its choice favouring a dual airport strategy ahead of the Wanaka/Hawea or Mossburn options gives no reason why having two narrow-body jet airports that could never be upgraded to accept wide-bodied jets might be better than having a single location that could be upgraded. It is Queenstown-centric, noting the benefits and costs to Queenstown without apparently the awareness that Queenstown Airport has become a hub with the majority (57%) of passengers destined elsewhere. There is no assessment of the value that could be recovered from the sale of Queenstown Airport’s Frankton land ($1.2 billion) and the significance of this when comparing the financial assessment of relocation versus the other options. And finally, there is no appreciation of the broader effects on the community or region.

This decision will affect a lifetime

It's time to evaluate the options

Right now we have a rare opportunity. The choice that QAC makes for the future of our airport will shape our region for a lifetime. Each choice leads to very different outcomes. 

Now is the time to look at viable options. Relocation is a viable option - but so far, the directors and executive of QAC and Mayor Boult and QLDC councillors are refusing to properly investigate it. Public pressure could motivate them to do so. 

This is election year. If you agree that relocation of Queenstown Airport should be properly evaluated as a long-term solution for the ever-increasing pressure on Queenstown and Wanaka Airports, please communicate with our councillors, council candidates and QAC directors. 

Queenstown Airport - where do the travellers go?

Where do the travellers go?

Possible locations


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