With 51% of passengers transiting directly to Wanaka and other Central locations, and 6 % travelling to destinations south of Queenstown, only 43% of passenger traffic to and from Queenstown Airport is for Queenstown and the Wakatipu. The consequence being that more than half the impact - in terms of congestion, noise, loss of development rights of property owners within the air noise boundaries and so forth - is caused by passengers who bring no benefit to the Wakatipu community.
This conclusion can be drawn from the data shown above, provided by Jen Andrews, Queenstown Airport Corporation's (QAC) General Manager Communications and Community and to information provided to Wanaka Stakeholders' Group.
To the question "Do you have the proportion of passengers who are travelling to Wanaka, Cromwell and Alexandra areas?" Ms Andrews responded:
"With regard to the proportion of passengers travelling to Wanaka and Central, here is the current annual data we have:
Domestic: 35% travelled to Wanaka and 20% travelled to Central Otago
International: 28% travelled to Wanaka and 11% travelled to Central Otago."
Applying these rates to the total passenger numbers for 2018 provided by QAC on their website - domestic 1,623,126, international 619,158 - this means 51% of passengers transit to Wanaka and other Central Otago destinations after landing in Queenstown Airport.
Source and credibility of information
Ms Andrews' written response was posted into the online forum that was part of QAC's formal five-week consultation on it's "Proposed Noise Changes" between 17 July and 20 August 2018.
In addition to Ms Andrews, other QAC top executives were participants in this forum, including CEO Colin Keel, General Manager Property & Planning Rachel Tregidga, Community Noise Liaison Manager Eleanor Trueman, and Project Manager Planning & Property Trish Daley. These are amongst the highest paid executives in our region, working for a company that is 75% publicly owned by local ratepayers.
The forum was part of an important legal process related to a significant issue. The figures given are not general, averaged or vague. They are precise and granular.
These circumstances should entitle us to rely with confidence on the numbers given.
On Monday 29 April, QAC executives met with the Wanaka Stakeholders Group (WSG) and QAC gave different numbers. Participants for QAC were Colin Keel, Rachel Tregidga and Naomi Lindsay (acting General Manager Communications & Community) and for WSG were Terry Hetherington, Andrew Waterworth and Michael Ross.
Mr Keel told the group that 6% of passenger movements came from Southland. He also said that 15-20% of passengers transit Queenstown Airport enroute to or from Wanaka.
We note that the number of passengers Mr Keel identified to the group as travelling directly to or from Wanaka was significantly different from the 30% figure previously provided by Ms Andrews.
When subsequently WSG sought clarification of the discrepancy in the numbers travelling to Wanaka, Ms Lindsay reasserted by email dated 16 May that "our current estimate is this is approximately 15-20%".
There remains, therefore, a significant disparity between the information given by QAC to people in Wanaka versus Queenstown.
Ms Lindsay went on in the same email to suggest:
"My understanding is the figure mentioned by the FlightPath2050 people in fact relates to total day visitors to Wanaka – including road travellers and residents/visitors in Queenstown who may visit Wanaka for just a day.
Air travel is only a part of the % of people (visitors and residents) who may visit Wanaka in a day. Lake Wanaka Tourism may have this information.
It seems likely this is where the figure came from."
It's a concern that Ms Lindsay should share an "understanding" without seeking to clarify it with FlightPlan2050 or checking the information that QAC itself presented to the people of Queenstown. It unfortunately risks creating the impression that QAC is offering different information to the Wanaka community than it had previously presented to the Queenstown community; and seeking to discredit those who engage in the public debate with an alternative view.
It is for QAC to resolve the disparity. Given that in both cases the information was provided as part of formal consultation, QAC will need to identify how they came to each number and provide a reasoned case as to why one is more credible than the other. They need to make this explicit and public to dispel the impression that numbers are being pulled out of the hat without evidence or the ability to justify them.
Queenstown Airport remains a hub
However, this disparity does not impact on the substantive issues. Namely, that QAC strategy has Queenstown Airport performing as a regional hub rather than a destination, resulting in a large proportion of passengers just passing through on their way to Wanaka, Central, the south, Dunedin and Invercargill. As noted above, half the impact of Queenstown Airport - in terms of congestion, noise, loss of development rights of property owners within the air noise boundaries and so forth - is caused by passengers who bring no benefit to the Wakatipu community.
In public statements to the media, Mayor Boult has said that the idea to relocate the airport is "murky thinking" and the "silliest idea I have heard in a long time". We offered in early May to go through our solidly researched arguments with him. So far he has not replied.
We query his understanding of our district when he claims Tarras to be one and a half hours' drive. Even with allowance for two sets of roadworks, Google Maps shows a driving distance of 1hr 1min from the Frankton roundabout to Tarras, and our own driving experience supports that it is within the hour, not longer.
The existing airport at Lowburn (a.k.a. Cromwell/Lowburn, Cromwell Terrace, Sugarloaf) that scored flying colours in past site studies, but which was excluded for unknown reasons from the recent study, is 45 minutes drive from Frankton.
FlighPlan2050 has not promoted Tarras as a preferred location for Queenstown Airport. Our research suggests that as many as five locations between Cromwell and Luggate would be worthy of study. All of these would be within one hour's drive from Frankton. None of them were included in QAC's Master Plan investigation of alternative sites.
While these locations would be further to travel for the people of Queenstown, they would all be considerably closer than the current location for the people of Wanaka, Cromwell and Alexandra.
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