What is QAC planning at Wanaka Airport?

Queenstown Airport Company’s proposals have been unfolding over the last few years (with increasing urgency). As at March 2020, before New Zealand went into lockdown, QAC’s plans were fairly clear, at a high level. QAC already has substantial ownership and control of Wanaka Airport via a 100 year lease, which can be renewed forever. Whilst the COVID-19 situation will delay these plans by some months or years, QAC (supported by QLDC) has showed no signs of backing away from its intention to build a jet capable airport at Wanaka. QLDC has said it will not reverse the lease to QAC.

Plans that we are aware of (as at mid 2020) include:

  • Domestic flights, Airbus320s & 321s and Boeing 737s by 2025. QAC suggests it would base flights on the claim that the Upper Clutha delivers 400,000 passenger movements currently.
  • International flights are “on the table”, probably starting with trans-Tasman winter flights.
  • As of early 2020, Queenstown Airport hosted just over 2 million passenger movements per annum. By 2035 QAC is projecting Wanaka and Queenstown Airports will be servicing 6 million combined international and domestic passenger movements annually. Rising to 7.1 million passengers by 2045.
  • QAC is 75.01% owned by QLDC: The stated objective of QLDC’s other shareholder (Auckland International Airport Ltd) is to maximise return for shareholders.
  • QAC is talking about a ‘dual airport model’, and have big plans for Wanaka. They want to spend over $400 million on extending the runway and making the airport jet capable.
  • To make that kind of investment work QAC will need a lot of flights – this will really turbo charge tourist growth and demand in our region. See independent analysis here
  • Based on current QAC and QLDC growth projections (even with a “correction” of a “few years” because of Covid-19), at Wanaka Airport we could expect up to 2.8 million passenger movements per year by 2035, and 3.9 million by 2045. To put that in perspective, as at January 2020, Queenstown currently had about 2.4 million movements. 
  • Note – that is not passengers but movements, so one flight in, one out per person

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