“The silliest idea I have heard in a long time” was Mayor Boult’s response to the suggestion that Queenstown Airport be relocated. He pointed to a framed map on his office wall that shows “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.
The 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.
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.
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!
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.
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
Source: QLDC Ten Year Plan 2018-2028
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 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:
[Source: QAC Proposed Noise Changes - Summary of public consultation outcomes, Oct 1, 2018]
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.
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.
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]
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]
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.
The past few years have seen many of our local attractions overrun by visitors - with significant negative impacts.
 Per Eugenie Sage, Minister of Conservation, at TRENZ 2019, ODT 17/5/19
 Per Lou Sanson, Department of Conservation, Lakes Weekly Bulletin No 697, 23-29 April 2019
 As per 
 As per 
 Department of Conservation
Government has announced its intention to be active in Tourism as Steward and Actor , including as an action under the workstream;
“Outcome: Tourism supports thriving and sustainable regions”:
Can you have a meaningful spatial plan without considering the Airport?
 New Zealand-Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy, May 2019 at page 16
Queenstown at odds with the “mood of the nation” according to Tourism Industry Aotearoa . 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:
These perceptions cannot be simply dismissed with a conversation about the benefits of tourism.
 Per Chris Roberts, CEO of TIA at TRENZ 2019, ODT 15/5/19
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:
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.
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]
“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]
“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]
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We put our analysis into the public arena where it can be critiqued, peer reviewed and challenged. We will quickly correct any errors. Our goal is to deepen our collective understanding of the many aspects involved in this discussion so that wiser choices can be made.
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