The Mayor’s airport inconsistencies [Wanaka Sun, 20/08/20]
Guest editorial: Wānaka Stakeholders Group Inc. chair, Michael Ross, questions the mayor’s airport logic.
Airports are the talk of the town right now, for good reason. There are now three busy jet airports contemplated within an hour’s drive of Queenstown – our existing airport in Frankton, possibly expanded, and two new jet airports near Wānaka. These plans are driven by corporate interests, and the community is feeling shut out.
Many of us were taken aback by the mayor’s recent editorial about Tarras Airport in the Wānaka Sun earlier this month (pictured). He has published the same article in other media since. We know Mr Boult has a recent background in airports and high-throughput commercial tourism. He is also an advocate for QAC’s “dual airport strategy” where Queenstown Airport is expanded by a second jet airport at Wānaka. In fact, he and others have already negotiated and granted QAC a 100 year ground lease of Wānaka Airport, and sold all the airport assets to them and given them economic control, which supports that strategy.
In his Wānaka Sun article Mr Boult notes that “the reality is that Covid-19 will have a significant impact and lasting effect on air traffic” meaning that pressure on Queenstown Airport capacity “will be gone for a very long time” and that a new jet airport simply does not make sense. On the one hand, this is where his analysis accords with hundreds of international experts (we have gathered over 700 since March). The Mayor correctly concludes that it will now be “a long time” before Queenstown Airport faces capacity issues.”
However, assuming he believes that, we simply cannot understand why there is a point blank refusal to “reset” and return Wānaka Airport and Project Pure back to the 100% ownership and control of the community. That is the very thing we asked the Council to do as the impacts of Covid-19 were becoming clear back in March this year. Mr Boult took the trouble to reply to our 3,400+ members with a resounding “no” to our reset request. This means that the lease is still in place for a very long time.
In his article, Mr Boult then goes on to say that “a significant proportion” of the traffic through Tarras Airport would head to Queenstown. Many of us have said exactly that. Like the mayor, we have already registered deep concern about significant numbers of tourists stepping off jets into rental cars to pour over the Crown Range or navigate the Kawarau Gorge to visit Queenstown, New Zealand’s tourist magnet. Both are challenging roads already under significant strain, and not just in winter.
He also zeroes in on fog at Tarras as a key issue, but fails to mention that there is well-known technology available which would allow the operator to handle dozens of flights – at the same time – with less than 75 meters of visibility – on the runway length planned for Tarras. Auckland Airport already has the technology, and all jet pilots flying in New Zealand are trained on it.
Finally, Mr Boult mentions that the new airport would have come as “a surprise to the good folk of Tarras.” He clearly misses the irony of his statement. The reason so many of us “good folk” in Wānaka (and Queenstown) are up in arms is because of a lack of any prior consultation with our communities. In fact, in Wānaka where the lease also compromises QLDC’s 100% control of our waste water and sewage system, Project Pure, there was absolutely no consultation about this related aspect at all. This will lead to a likely cost to the ratepayer of tens of millions of dollars to move Project Pure when QAC demands this.
Mr Boult cannot have his airport cake and eat it too. It is disingenuous to use arguments against an airport at Tarras because it is not on his turf but at the same time ignore those same arguments about the jet airport development he is supporting 15 minutes drive closer to Wanaka.