What's changed?

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"

The above quote is attributed to famous economist John Maynard Keynes. It highlights the importance of a weather eye on changing circumstances and the wisdom of adaptation. Queenstown is experiencing massive change - but a growth doctrine and entrenched ideas can block thoughtful vision.

Must remain "close to town"?

Mayor Boult stated that “Queenstown Airport gazetted in 1936, and the airport was put there for the very good and proper reason because it’s close to the town” [Crux, May 21, 2019]. But does that “good and proper reason” of 1936 have relevance today?

Eighty three years ago, the total population of Queenstown was just 931 people, “with a trickle of summer holidaymakers" (Stats NZ and New Zealand History). The HMS Earnslaw still carried sheep to the Kingston Flyer steam train till 1957. 

The grass airstrip that was once “close to town” now sits smack in the middle of Frankton, our district’s major retail, educational, sporting and business centre with nearly three times the retail space of Queenstown Bay. Instead of one or two hundred passengers per year in small propellor planes as per 1936, we now have 2.3 million annually flying in large jet aircraft, with demand of 7.1 million passenger movements forecast by 2045.

The decisions made by our parents or grandparents when aircraft were a novelty are hardly relevant for the infrastructural decisions we need to make today.

Constrained and outgrown?

The operational limitations of Queenstown Airport are glaringly obvious. The mountainous terrain, challenging weather, short runway, limited RESA zones and negative impacts on community and environment all constrict its operation and potential to expand.

It is rated among the world's least safe airports for scheduled jet services, resulting in airlines prescribing additional operational limits on their jets, such as reduced wind limits and takeoff payloads reduced by 5,200kg (equivalent to 52 passengers). 

Queenstown Airport is clearly a suboptimal asset that becomes less suitable with each passing year.

Encroached upon and overgrown

Added to this is the enormous urban and residential developments increasingly pressing onto the airport. In addition to that on Frankton Flats, there is increased density both sides of Frankton Arm, development of Quail Rise, Lake Hayes Estate, Shotover Country, and likely development of Ladies Mile. Thousands more people are daily impacted by increasingly intrusive aircraft noise.

Opportunity cost

Soaring prices have Frankton land valued at $1,200 per m2 while Otago rural land averages just $1.67 per m2. It doesn't make economic sense to lock up $1.2 billion dollars of land value when it would cost only $3 million to replace it.

A time for vision

Our challenge is to notice and understand the enormous changes that continue to impact our dynamic region, and to make the best plans for our future. Now is not the time to look backwards. It's a time for vision.

In this page we take a snapshot of recent and forecast change. We look at regional population, the airport, NZ tourism, Frankton and Air New Zealand. In all aspects we find the change to be rapid and substantial. We find the circumstances today are vastly different than 1936 when fewer than 1,000 people lived in the district with just a trickle of summer holidaymakers. 

Population growth

Queenstown population projections

International visitors

One local resident to 34 international visitors (i.e. not including kiwi visitors).

This is the standout statistic - it’s the bedrock of the Visitor Levy argument! 

Projected residential growth

54% increase from 2011 to 2031 (20 years)

100% increase from 2018 to 2058

From 38,048 usually resident to 75,000 in next 40 years

The greatest growth of this is projected for the next 10 to 15 years.

Exploding population

Peak day population of residents and visitors of 150,000 by 2028 (in nine years) - more than Dunedin


We need 17,000 additional housing units over the next 30 years.

Where are these residents to be housed?

See concerns regarding our Fractured Wakatipu

The airport

Queenstown Airport forecast passenger demand

Noise boundaries

The current noise boundaries were established ten years ago in 2009.

They were intended to last 28 years, until 2037.

QAC expects the limit to be reached by 2022 - 15 years early!

Caution: Treat future growth projections with care. 

QAC noise expansion pushback

QAC forecast 7.1 million passenger movements by 2045.

Caution: This forecast implies an annual increase of just 4.4% even while each of the past five years' growth have reached double figures.

QAC expected this growth to be, if not welcomed, at least tolerated. But in the 2018 five-week public consultation seeking to increase its operating noise boundaries:

  • 92.5% of 1505 submitters opposed the proposed expansion, with just 3.7% in support.
  • Queenstown Stakeholders Group rejected the proposal.
  • Six community associations rejected it.
  • Four educational institutions opposed it.
  • 25 businesses, including major tourism operators, also rejected it.

[Source: QAC Proposed Noise Changes - Summary of public consultation outcomes, Oct 1, 2018]

Regional Hub

Since 2010 the character of Queenstown AIrport has changed from being a destination to acting as the regional hub. Only 43% of passengers landing in Queenstown stay in the Wakatipu. The remaining 57% transit on to or from Wanaka, Central, Dunedin, or to the south, including Invercargill. [For QAC data supporting this conclusion please check out our Numbers page.]

The direct consequence of this is that more than half the impact of the airport and aircraft - 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 a fragile mountain region that lives off its outstanding natural landscape, this makes no sense at all.

This change has been recent. It has been driven by the strategic purchase in 2010 of a 25% shareholding in QAC by Auckland International Airport and by the Christchurch earthquakes that have redirected tourist demand.

QAC rethink

In response to the public pushback, QAC appears to reduce its growth plans for Queenstown Airport: 

 “The master planning approach for Queenstown Airport is focused on expanding the current terminal infrastructure, rather than building a wholly new terminal [i.e. 3.2 million passengers]. It will continue to support domestic and trans-Tasman services using turbo-prop and narrow-body jet aircraft. The planning will also provide for some expansion to the current noise and land boundaries.”  [source: ZQN News, May 2019]

The QAC dual airport strategy would see the balance of demand not handled at Queenstown Airport being transferred to Wanaka Airport. This would lead to Wanaka Airport becoming the major hub airport for the region. 

Growing international demand

QAC writes in its bimonthly newsletter “that worldwide demand for air travel continues to grow, with the International Air Transport Association forecasting that the number of airline passengers globally will reach 8.2 billion in 2037.”   [source: ZQN News, May 2019

Demand grows despite the rethink

New revised forecasts are promised with the completed SOI in June 2019

But May 2019 figures show +11% growth over last 12 months with +14% growth in international passengers.  And record number of flights are planned for 2019 ski season.  [source: ZQN News, May 2019]  

NZ Tourism

Roys Peak overrun tourism

Focus on growth

Growth in visitor numbers up 35% over past five years.

Forecast growth of 31% for next five years, with international visitor arrivals expected to increase from 3.9 million to reach 5.1 million annually by 2024 (5.1 million visitors equals 10.2 passenger movements).

Tourism has become the largest sector of NZ economy and principal earner of foreign exchange.

[Source: Government Tourism Strategy, May 2019]

Overrun attractions

The past few years have seen many of our local attractions overrun by visitors - with significant negative impacts.

  • Aoraki Mt Cook visitors top one million this year; [1]
  • Blue Pools on the Makarora to Haast Pass Rd had an increase from 3.400  visitors in summer of 2015/16 to 102,000 in summer of 2018/19, an increase of 2900% in three years; [2]
  • Ben Lomond Track - numbers doubled in the same 3 year period; [3]
  • Visits to Ulva Island up 76% on last year to a total of 17,000; [4]
  • Roy's Peak track use jumped 27% in the past year. Walkers now queue up to an hour for a selfie at the top.
  • Milford Sound visitors jumped 97% from 414,059 in 2012/13 to 813,810 in 2017/18. [5]


[1] Per Eugenie Sage, Minister of Conservation, at TRENZ 2019, ODT 17/5/19

[2]  Per Lou Sanson, Department of Conservation, Lakes Weekly Bulletin No 697, 23-29 April 2019 

[3] As per [2]

[4] As per [1]

[5] Department of Conservation

Government leadership

Government has announced its intention to be active in Tourism as Steward and Actor [6], including as an action under the workstream;

“Outcome: Tourism supports thriving and sustainable regions”:

  • “Capability development and partnerships”
  • “Support collaborative spatial planning projects with local government to develop integrated solutions to plan and manage future growth (MBIE, DOC, LINZ, NZTA, DIA, MHUD)”

Can you have a meaningful spatial plan without considering the Airport?


[6]  New Zealand-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy, May 2019 at page 16 

Social licence in balance

Queenstown at odds with the “mood of the nation” according to Tourism Industry Aotearoa [7]. While 78% of New Zealanders are happy with the level of tourism growth, in Queenstown 76% think there is too much pressure from tourism. The numbers highlight how locals feel overwhelmed:

  • 71% of Queenstowners think international tourism results in increased traffic congestion;
  • 69% in increased risk off traffic accidents;
  • 50% in increased congestion in walking areas; and
  • 54% in damage to the natural environment.

These perceptions cannot be simply dismissed with a  conversation about the benefits of tourism. 


[7]  Per Chris Roberts, CEO of TIA at TRENZ 2019, ODT 15/5/19 



Queenstown Central

The centre of our district has moved. Where it had been in Queenstown Bay since the days of William Rees, the past ten years has seen the heart and centre of our community transfer to Frankton. Queenstown Bay, along with Arrowtown's historic street, have become the purview of tourist visitors.  Our resident community's focus is now firmly embedded in Frankton, which now has:

  • Nearly three times the retail space of Queenstown Bay
  • The new high school
  • Three supermarkets
  • Two comprehensive retail centres
  • The Queenstown Events Centre sport complex
  • A range of sports fields
  • Our largest light industrial area
  • A hospital in need of expansion to cope with the growing residential and visitor population
  • Several medical centres
  • Substantial further development potential by Remarkables Park Ltd, including hotels, gondola and conference centre.


QAC constrains the growth of Frankton. Where it could become an attractive mountain village - liveable, affordable and the vital community heart of our district - the airport blocks all noise sensitive activities and building. So no new residential developments on its perimeter and the airport's expansion has existing homes bought and levelled. 

Land value

In its 2018 Annual Report QAC values its Frankton landholding at $207 million. It's gained $30 million in each of the past three years. 

But these valuations completed by registered valuer Seagars vastly underestimate the potential value of the land if the airport relocated and this land was rezoned. The Seagars valuations are entirely based on the current designated use of the land. Their per square meter price for the land on which the terminal sits was $880, but it's down to just $0.89c /m2 for the land designated as RESA zone. The wide 44 hectare  expanse designated airfield was valued at just $3.40 /m2.

With Frankton industrial land currently selling for $1,500 /m2 and residential land even more expensive, it just doesn't make sense to sit on the most useful land in the district and hold its price at $3.40 /m2. 

The substantial rise in land values in our district means QAC could gain over $1.2 billion for the sale of its Frankton landholding. More than enough to find and develop an new fit for purpose greenfield airport to serve our growing region. 

[Source: Seagars Registered Valuers and Property Advisors June 2018 Valuation Report for QAC]

Air New Zealand


New Regional Airport

“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”.

Air New Zealand's submission spoke of the need to look at options “for delivery of tourism to central Otago, independently of the discussion of noise boundaries at QAC.  Options should include a terminal catering for the long-term growth of central Otago”.

"We need to think nationally about delivery of visitors to regions, so that visitors can be delivered to hubs from which they can disperse widely. We need to resource visitor hubs accordingly, so that infrastructure which serves tourism and delivers GDP growth does not either starve or crowd out local communities. "

[Source: Air New Zealand submission to QAC consultation on proposed expansion of noise boundaries, August 20, 2018]

Vision needed now

“There should be due diligence and long-term planning to make sure we have a successful and sustainable tourism industry for the future.”

New Zealand would get “a small chance to look at this”’ and if it made the wrong investment decision it would have to pay for it for the next 50 years.

[Source:  Per Cam Wallace, Air NZ Chief Revenue Officer, ODT, May 15, 209, TRENZ conference of May 14, 2019]

"The difficulty" according to Keynes, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones."

Frankton Master Plan

Frankton people self-identify as peaceful, happy, safe and connected

What is Frankton's vision?

When the residents of Frankton attended a Shaping Our Futures forum in September 2018, they were asked three questions. The first was to give two words that they would like to see included in a vision statement for the future of Frankton.

This WORDLE gives a pictorial summary of people’s responses. It shows people value a peaceful place with strong sense of community.

Frankton residents aspire for a peaceful, connected, liveable community that is family friendly

What's the community's aspiration?

Participants were then asked "what is your ideal future for Frankton.

The words in the WOODLE show that most of all they aspired for a peaceful, connected, liveable place with a strong sense of community. Inclusive, green, sustainable and family friendly.

Queenstown Airport is the biggest obstacle to achieving the community's aspirations

What stands in your way?

When asked "what was the greatest challenge facing the Frankton Community today", the answer was resoundingly clear. Almost all participants identified the problem as the airport and the associated growth, traffic and infrastructure issues.

For two local urban designers and architects, David Jerram and Gillian Macleod, this was a "penny drop" moment. It caused them to wonder how Frankton might realise it's vision - if the airport wasn't there.

But that's not all. Another major consultation process was unfolding ....

UNEQUIVOCAL Pushback on Airport Expansion

Queenstown Airport proposed noise boundaries opposed

Relentless growth

Queenstown Airport has grown rapidly - reporting annual growth rates exceeding 12%. More aircraft movements, longer hours and night flights all contribute to making more noise. The Airport's operating consents place limits on how much noise it can make. These were last adjusted in 2009, and at that time the expanded limits were expected to be sufficient for the next 28 years, until 2037. But the rapid growth means that QAC expects to reach its noise limits within 2 or 3 years - 15 years early.

QAC proposed expansion of noise boundaries

QAC plans to increase its scheduled flights (jets) from 15,718 to 41,611 by 2045, and so would need to expand its current noise boundaries by about double. QAC forecast that this would see as many as one takeoff or landing every 4 minutes at peak times.

The expansion would put an additional 3,000 dwellings (7,500 residents) inside the noise boundary. This clearly would have significant effects on the life people have in this natural environment, and would put significant costs for soundproofing mitigation, while at the same time reduce the development rights available for their properties, particularly regarding activities designated as sensitive to noise.

The community was consulted and said NO!

The five-week consultation period ending 20 August 2018 resulted in 1,505 submissions, substantially more than for any other consultation in the district's history.

An overwhelming 92.5% of respondents opposed the proposal to expand the Airport's noise boundaries, while only 3.7% supported it. The opposition came from all sectors of the community, including businesses and the Chamber of Commerce.

This was another "penny drop" moment. It appears that Queenstown Airport located in Frankton is beginning to lose its social licence.

Blue Sky Thinking

The aspirations of the community in Frankton, and the crystal clear message from the whole community to restrict the noise boundaries, are important watershed moments. Some people, including leaders in our community, appear to be ignoring these signals and remain intent on a "business as usual" approach to growth and its direction.

For us, though, it has made us stop to think and reflect. We seek to understand the complex issues and to discover new innovative solutions. That has led to this proposal to relocate the Queenstown Airport.

As we researched and investigated this idea more deeply, we discovered that the impacts of relocating the airport would have significant positive effects across almost 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 airlines, and for QAC.