Shaun Gilbertson’s views on airport expansion in Wanaka [Wanaka Sun, 20/02/20]

OPINION: The proposal for a jet capable airport by QAC and QLDC will, I think, bring unprecedented and unstoppable growth to our beautiful Wanaka. I’m not against growth at all, having been involved in the tourism industry for some thirty plus years, in the management of Cardrona Alpine Resort and until recently managing the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds for the past 14 years. 

I get concerned that Auckland Airport is on a growth program to take its passenger movement numbers from 20 million through to 40 million a year by 2044.  It is about to commence a $950 million upgrade to its terminals alone, plus a second runway. 

I get really concerned when I hear Mayor Jim Boult telling Luggate residents there will only be a couple of flights in and out a day.  How can that possibly work?  Mr Boult has been quoted as saying the Wanaka Airport development will cost $200 million to build initially.  Where is the viability in that with only a few flights a day?  Let alone the QAC boss Colin Keel telling us personally that it’s going to cost $300-400 million. Even if that is over a period of time, there still has to be a profitable business return to sustain that kind of investment.

QAC projects capacity of 7.1 million passenger movements a year in the Southern Lakes by 2045, but with current noise boundaries are only able to handle a maximum of 3.5 million through Queenstown Airport.  Even if the 7.1 million is wound back to 5 million as has been suggested by QAC’s CEO, that still leaves 1.5 million passenger movements a year without an airport to fly in or out of.

Let’s be realistic – millions of passenger movements mean lots of flights.  QAC’s projected aircraft movements for Queenstown by 2025 – just five years away – is 25,000 a year.  That’s 68 flights a day –13 aircraft movements at peak hour. My concern is that Wanaka could be forced to take a fair chunk of that growth– that’s a lot more than a few flights a day.

I get even more concerned that our Deputy Mayor assured me that he would negotiate light rail from the airport into Wanaka.  Bugger me, Auckland hasn’t even got light rail. Airports are notorious for not spending a dollar outside their front gate, and the local rate payer is left to foot the bill for all other infrastructure. 

For those who see the short-term advantage of a direct flight to Auckland being so convenient, then I think you should think again.  That advantage of not having to take on the Crown Range and Queenstown’s traffic will quickly disappear when the traffic congestion will be here in Wanaka and will surround us all day, every day.  Even Queenstown is going to suffer from a big airport in Wanaka – more than 50% of all those passengers will wind up driving to Queenstown.

The very attractions and quality of life that made you choose to live in Wanaka or the Upper Clutha will change forever. And Wanaka will follow straight down Queenstown’s tracks.  For your one flight a month or twice a year, we will have to put up with those 30 flights a day. Some say it could be 50 flights a day.

Queenstown is currently doing 2.3 million passenger movements a year, 950,000 of those go to Milford Sound. So why don’t we encourage a chunk of those visitors to go in and or out of the totally under-utilised Invercargill airport which is actually closer to Milford Sound.

Regarding the increased job opportunities created by a jet capable airport in Wanaka, I really only see more low-wage jobs, filled by overseas and itinerant workers. This will cause even greater accommodation issues that continue to plague our community.

The existing local tourism operators will be under pressure from the corporates of the industry who have very deep pockets and they will succumb to fierce competition that they have not even dreamed about. This can be seen all over the world.

I have been involved in a majority of these so-called consultation processes, where it was obvious to me and others there was a predetermined outcome. In some cases, we weren’t even allowed to consider the negative points of a larger airport, only positive comments.  At the Spatial Plan forums we weren’t even allowed to consider the expanded jet capable airport concept and its ramifications. I fear the MartinJenkins assessment will be more of the same.

I’ve been in a meeting with Colin Keel, QAC’s CEO and several others where we asked, “will there be any international flights”, and were told there would be no international flights. The very next day a QAC spokesperson said there would be International Charter Flights.  So, who knows what actually is the long term plan for Wanaka Airport.

I believe we should have faith in “Our Wanaka Product” and take charge of our future accordingly. Mass tourism is a short-term and ultimately fatal approach to growth and sustainability.

I’m all in favour of a domestic link between Wanaka and Christchurch. Possibly by ATR aircraft or similar.  I think this is a way for Wanaka to control its destiny, not Queenstown, not QAC and certainly not Auckland Airport.  We should be conveying this to our elected representatives.

Perhaps a sprinkle of truth serum could go a long way to find out what really is happening, very happy to drink from the cup myself.

Wanaka and Queenstown, be careful what you wish for.

The above are the views and opinion expressed by Shaun Gilbertson.

Join the Wanaka Stakeholder Group Inc. for free here

Encourage others to with this post.

%d bloggers like this: