Queenstown Airport - where do the travellers go?

Where do the travellors go?

QAC's Destination Data

The vast majority of people (94%) using Queenstown Airport are travelling to or from the area shown in the map above. Only 43% of them stay within the Wakatipu.

These figures are based on written information published by QAC's General Manager Communications and Community during the three-week formal consultation regarding its expansion of noise boundaries in Queenstown, as explained here. While we are aware that QAC has at times given conflicting data regarding traveller destinations, the specific and granular information provided in the public and formal consultation over ANBs lends authority to the information given above. If it wishes to assert alternative data, then it is for QAC to explain and justify any change.

QAC's destination data shows that Queenstown Airport is not in the best location for a regional airport serving current passenger demand. The Cromwell-Tarras valley would be a more central location.

Cromwell-Tarras Valley

We have identified five viable sites within the Cromwell-Tarras valley. Initial study shows each of these offer significantly better operational potential than any of the sites considered in the Siting Study April 2017 (made publicly available by QAC in June 2019 following an OIA request).

Some of the many obvious advantages include:

Land availability

An extensive amount of open rural land is available at an average price of just $1.67 per m2 compared with $1,200 per m2 for land in Frankton (May 2019). The five specific locations identified have sufficient flat land for full length runways including fully compliant RESA zones plus capacity to extend if future needs require it.

There is also sufficient adjacent land to satisfy all the current and future needs of ancillary businesses, including parking, storage and distribution infrastructure.

Minimum adverse impacts

These sites would have far less negative impacts on people than either the Queenstown or Wanaka airports. Some have fewer than 100 individual dwellings within a 10km radius.

In contrast, a 10km radius from Queenstown Airport includes all of the Wakatipu Basin, reaching beyond Arrowtown, Arthurs Point, Closeburn, Wye Creek and Gibbston Valley. That impacts on a total population of 120,000 people. For Wanaka Airport, a 10km radius includes Wanaka, Hawera, and Luggate.

Flight safety

The Cromwell-Tarras valley offers far greater flight safety advantages than either of the Queenstown or Wanaka airports.

The geography provides clear straight line approach and landing flight paths at 2% slope for distances in excess of 15 km, and there are far fewer obstacles penetrating the approach splays. Important for daily operation, this also greatly improves safety parameters for climb capability after impairment or failure of one or both engines, or impairment due to icing. Viable emergency options available immediately after takeoff.

The climatic and atmospheric conditions also offer greater safety and certainty of operation relative to Queenstown or Wanaka. Being further from the main divide, the effects of weather is less extreme. Local wind conditions and wind-shear issues are less problematic than exist at Queenstown Airport or even Wanaka.

The on-ground runway length and RESA areas could be full length and also have extensive runnouts. The option of extending the runway if needed for Autoland capability would be possible.

Airspace would not be compromised by multiple users such as tourist flights in fixed wing or helicopters, recreational flight parks with hang gliders, paraponts or parachutists

The geography, airspace and capacity for longer runway length make all of this potential sites suitable for instrument flight approaches, including if necessary for fog conditions.


As shown in the map above, QAC's own data indicates that the Cromwell-Tarras is centrally located for those using the airport. This is outlined in the section above headed "QAC's Data" and more fully in the page titled "The Numbers".


No need for the uneconomic duplication of assets or services that would result from the dual airport strategy. The increased distance from urban centers could allow for unrestricted hours of operation.

Road connectivity

The Cromwell-Tarras valley has excellent state highway connectivity to Queenstown, Wanaka and Central Otago. 

There would be a reduction of airport related traffic on the Crown Range link between Queenstown and Wanaka.

There would be a likely reduction in airport related traffic in the Kawarau Gorge. First, because the QAC data shows only about 43% of travellers are destined to or from the Wakatipu. Secondly, because a high quality airport express bus service would be a more likely and viable  operation for travellers from a Cromwell-Tarras airport than is currently possible in the reverse direction.


The existing centers of Cromwell, Lowburn, Pisa Moorings, Clyde, Luggate and Tarras provide a range of residential opportunities for those  employed at the airport. Importantly, these provide far more affordable housing options for salaried and waged workers than are available in either Queenstown or Wanaka, making for much more sustainable businesses and communities.

Those who choose, would still be able to commute from Queenstown, Wanaka  or Alexandra, as several do currently in the reverse situation.

This helps relieve housing pressure within the Wakatipu Basin.

Cohesive supply chain

Cromwell is developing as the natural distribution center for the Queenstown Lakes District. The drivers for this include:

  • central access to the markets of Queenstown, Wanaka, Cromwell and Alexandra from a single location,
  • excellent road infrastructure,
  • available land at economically viable prices,
  • affordable accommodation for the workforce, and
  • single-day-return road transport from the major cities of Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.

It would make economic and logistical sense to centralise the airport transport network into the same area. The airport, airlines and ancillary businesses have complex and substantial supply chains. These include fuel, food, engineering, rental vehicles and many more.

The location of Queenstown Airport frustrates potential supply chain efficiencies by not being at Cromwell. The Frankton location adds further economic burdens such as excessive land and lease costs, high wage and operational costs, constrained growth potential, and the excessively high opportunity costs related to alternative land use.

QAC's dual airport proposal, creating yet another supply chain node, would exacerbate rather than improves the situation. The  duplication and loss of economies of scale would further undermine the economic and logistic advantages possible from centralising supply and distribution around Cromwell. 

Future of Tourism

Relocation of the airport would ensure that future air access to this region will not be restricted by the current physical, legal and social constraints of the Frankton and Wanaka locations. It will more effectively disperse tourism into multiple destinations across the region in line with current NZ Tourism Strategy. It will also create new tourism opportunities across the region in Wanaka, Hawea, Cromwell, Alexandra and the MacKenzie basin.

Impact on infrastructure

It is important when assessing the impacts on infrastructure to consider the total picture, and not just the immediate services directly associated with the construction of the airport.

The release of Frankton land for the development of a densely populated mountain village would, for example, provide substantial infrastructural benefits. Transport, sewerage, water, communications and the public amenities of libraries and sports fields would all see gains in efficiencies and economies relative to their networks being more widely and sparsely distributed throughout the Wakatipu Basin. This would be true for both the short term construction phase and even more so for the long term future. 

As well as economies in their construction, such intensification made possible by relocation of the airport would generate social and economic benefits from behaviour change. Intensification makes public transport and active transport more viable, reducing demand for roading infrastructure. 

The development of infrastructure for a single airport location would have substantial efficiency and economic advantages over developing in two locations, as is promoted by QAC's dual airport proposal. This is true for both the immediate construction cost and over the long-term life of the projects.



Having the airport in Frankton is conveniently close for those who live in Queenstown. The loss of this convenience, together with the perceived need that our tourism market requires immediate proximity to Queenstown, appear as the two biggest arguments against its relocation.

Convenience for locals

As noted previously, QAC's data indicates that only 43% of passengers' destinations are within the Wakatipu. This information shows the final destination of 51% requires they must travel over the Crown Range Road or State Highway 6 down the Kawarau Gorge.

While the data does not differentiate between the travel of locals versus that of visitors, it is reasonable to presume that the proportions would be similar. If so, then any disadvantage of increased travel time to the airport for people based in the Wakatipu would be more than compensated by improved convenience for those living in the Wanaka, Cromwell or other Central locations.

For most in the Wakatipu, the time driving to the airport would change from about 15 minutes to about 50. The map above shows a drive time from Frankton to Tarras of 1hr 1m, despite roadworks at Nevis Bluff and in Kawarau Gorge.  The five sites we have studied are all closer than this, so are less than one hour from Frankton. The impact for most locals would be less than minor - an extra 30-40 minutes a couple of times per year, if that.

In addition, this occasional minor inconvenience would be more than compensated by a decrease in daily traffic congestion on the road network within the Wakatipu resulting from fewer travellers landing and driving to Wanaka or Central.

Frequent flyers

Some argue that a number of people choose to base themselves in Queenstown even though their (high paid) work is elsewhere. These people, it is argued, rely on rapid access to their flights for regular commutes.

This raises challenging questions, particularly in the context of climate change and Council's decision to declare a Climate Emergency on the same day it announced its Draft Climate Action Plan (27 June 2019). 

An American study reported by The International Council on Clean Transportation found that 68% of aircraft emissions resulted from just 12% of the total adult population - the frequent fliers. To actively encourage a systemic increase in such behaviour that adds substantially to climate change would be counter to responsible climate change policy. 

While the personal convenience of proximity to the airport is an important concern keenly expressed by some, it must be questioned whether this occasional advantage for a few is worth the constant noise impacts on the many who each day must suffer a plane flying overhead every four minutes. Let alone the opportunity costs and economic burden on all ratepayers from needing to pay for more dispersed infrastructure instead developing a more intense village in Frankton?

Impact on tourism

Some in the business community express concern that relocation of the airport further from Queenstown would damage their businesses and the tourism industry on which the local economy depends.

Such views belie international experience. It is normal for tourists to travel an hour or more from their arrival airport to their destination. It's two hours, for example, from Geneva Airport to Chamonix, nearly three hours from Vancouver Airport to Whistler, and an hour from Phuket Airport to Phuket.

Relocating the airport up to an hour away is not likely to deter visitors from Queenstown. For those whose destination is Wanaka or Central, a greenfield airport would likely be more convenient. 

Indeed, choosing to not relocate the airport would likely have a far greater negative impact on businesses and our tourism based economy by stifling potential for growth and systemically increasing costs through duplication.

Air NZ, in its submission on QAC's ANBs, argued that a new regional airport was needed precisely to enable growth of visitors and businesses. It did not believe "that increases in 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". It argued that  "Air New Zealand considers that options for a central Otago terminal justify further investigation". And that this was necessary to "cater for the future growth of all domestic and international travel to Otago". 

In addition to likely stifling future tourism potential, retaining Queenstown Airport in Frankton creates a negative effect on local business and economy.

First, the accessibility combined with discount fares encourage fleeting, short-stay visitors who travel opportunistically at short notice. Such markets are particularly vulnerable to changing economic or weather conditions, causing surge or drought in visitor numbers. Such volatility is difficult to plan for and places undue stress on business capacity, staffing and profitability.

Secondly, the increase in jet aircraft noise within the basin significantly and negatively impacts our environment, the very quality that draws tourists to this place. 

As communities grow, there comes a time when the conveniences of being small - like the ability to park directly outside the shop or be 15 minutes from an airport you don’t mind as a neighbour - disappear. That’s when new solutions are needed. We are at such a time with the airport.

QAC's Lip Service to Alternative Sites

QAC's Queenstown Airport Siting Study - April 2017

The Queenstown Airport Siting Study - April 2017 lacks 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. Operate within the current ANBs at Queenstown Airport, with excess demand redirected to Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.
  2. A dual airport strategy that retains Queenstown Airport and develops a second airport at W to enable demand to be split between the two.
  3. Relocation of Queenstown Airport to a new site that could accommodate the forecast demand.

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.

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. 

Possible locations