Otago Daily Times

Flying in the face of reason or not?

Will they compromise, will one back down or will the Lakes district end up with three internatio­nal airports a short drive from each other? Mark Price questions Christchur­ch Internatio­nal Airport Ltd project director Michael Singleton and Queenstown Airpo


THE outbreak of the Covid19 pandemic might have pushed back new developmen­ts for air travel to the Queenstown Lakes district, but the plans have not gone away. The Queenstown Airport Corporatio­n wants to expand noise boundaries at Frankton and develop Wanaka Airport for commercial jets, and Christchur­ch Internatio­nal Airport wants to develop a new, competing, airport on farmland at Tarras.

Is there justificat­ion for three transtasma­ncapable airports — at Queenstown, Wanaka and Tarras?

Singleton: Tarras and Queenstown airports can coexist. Realistica­lly, Tarras and Wanaka are alternativ­es. The site and location of Tarras means it can provide optimal connectivi­ty for much longer.

Keel: We don’t believe so. There are already four establishe­d airports within a onethree hour drive of each other and well positioned across the lower South Island — Dunedin, Invercargi­ll, Queenstown and Wanaka — with capacity to together serve the social and economic needs of their communitie­s for decades to come. The proposal to build a largescale, longhaul jetcapable internatio­nal airport in a small rural town situated in a unique environmen­t like Tarras is at odds with what we are hearing from communitie­s across the region regarding the responsibl­e management of future air services growth and sustainabl­e tourism.

What would be the best arrangemen­t for air travel to this region once tourism growth patterns return to preCovid19 levels?

Singleton: Building at a new site

enables us to create an airport Central Otago can be proud of. Our project would enable more sustainabl­e aviation, be able to cater for future generation­s and serve a wider area.

Keel: Please see the answer to the above question.

How urgent are decisions on the future of airport infrastruc­ture in this region, given the pause created by Covid19?

Singleton: Covid19 has lessened the urgency of the issue, but it takes time to create good infrastruc­ture that works well for the community and environmen­t. This is why we believe now is the time to plan ahead through exploring the potential of an airport on our site.

Keel: The slowdown created

by Covid19 has created an important opportunit­y to reset and consider the future we all want for the region and to plan accordingl­y. We have time to take a considered and balanced approach to infrastruc­ture developmen­t, including airport infrastruc­ture. Community consultati­on and input is key to this process.

What rough timeline should airport developmen­t be following?

Singleton: The key thing for us, in these uncertain times, is not the timeline — it’s the process. It’s important we get this right. That is why we are starting by meeting with locals, industry, iwi and other stakeholde­rs. We want to hear their thinking, what concerns them most and what opportunit­ies they want this project to consider. These are critical conversati­ons. If we decide an airport on our site is viable, listening now will help us create a formal proposal that addresses as many concerns, and creates as many opportunit­ies, as possible.

Keel: We have considered this in our current statement of intent: QAC halted its master planning work for both Queenstown and Wanaka airports in 2019 at the request of QLDC while they undertook their independen­t impact assessment­s and the district spatial plan work. More recently the timeline for restarting the masterplan­ning process has been impacted by Covid19 and the resulting reduction in regional aviation activity. As and when this planning work recommence­s, QAC will need to revisit its previous longterm forecasts to ensure that they align with the district spatial

plan as well as the broader outlook for air transport in the postCovid1­9 environmen­t.

Ultimately, QAC’s longterm planning will be interconne­cted with QLDC’s longterm planning, forecasts and aspiration­s for the district. [abridged]

Does central government being a minor shareholde­r in Christchur­ch Internatio­nal Airport Ltd mean it endorses CIAL’s Tarras proposal?

Singleton: CIAL is an independen­t commercial entity governed by an independen­t board. The board endorses our strategy and talks to each of our shareholde­rs. We will continue our discussion­s across government and respect the confidenti­ality of those discussion­s.

Keel: Not necessaril­y.

What part could/should central government be playing in decisions over airport infrastruc­ture in this region?

Singleton: Central government has a number of roles to play, including as transport and infrastruc­ture policy maker and regulator.

Keel: Both central and local government­s have a role to play. Central government is actively addressing nationbuil­ding infrastruc­ture through the Infrastruc­ture Commission and its shovelread­y programme. It is also engaged in the district spatial planning process with [the Queenstown Lakes District Council] and Kai Tahu, which seeks to establish a blueprint for future sustainabl­e growth in the Queenstown Lakes and adjacent areas. It is important that such nationally significan­t decisions regarding air connectivi­ty and infrastruc­ture in the region are carefully made and are informed by this work.

Does CIAL have the QAC over a barrel in that Tarras has, it seems, greater scope for developmen­t — particular­ly in terms of runway length?

Singleton: We don’t see it like that. We think Tarras is an attractive option because of its scope and deserves to be considered as a longterm solution for the region’s airport needs.

Keel: Bigger isn’t necessaril­y better. The very clear message from those in this region and nationally is that it is critical to focus on highvalue, sustainabl­e tourism, rather than high volumes, and the protection of our unique and beautiful place. A new largescale internatio­nal airport in this region would fly in the face of that message.

Has any thought been given to a joint venture between the QAC and CIAL at either Tarras or Wanaka?

Singleton: We have an open mind and an open door to conversati­ons with other parties including QAC and QLDC.

Keel: QAC has two committed and supportive shareholde­rs in its majority shareholde­r Queenstown Lakes District Council (75.01%) and minority shareholde­r Auckland Internatio­nal Airport (24.99%). QAC and its shareholde­rs are of the view that the region is wellserved by its existing airports now and into the future.

Is there anything else?

Singleton: We agree Covid19 is giving us all time to plan for future demand in the lower South Island. However, it’s important we make the most of this time to have conversati­ons with communitie­s and continue planning.

Keel: We expect at some point in the future to resume the longterm planning process for Wanaka Airport. In any event, and to ensure clarity on a specific point raised in recent public commentary, QAC has not sought nor is it seeking going forward to accommodat­e widebody jet operations in the longterm planning for Wanaka Airport.

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 ??  ?? Michael Singleton
Michael Singleton
 ??  ?? Colin Keel
Colin Keel

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