The following questions were asked by We Love Wakatipu members.  We have quoted the responses from QAC and QLDC, gained (slowly) under freedom of information legislation, and, where necessary, added our own commentary. Please read on…

How many more airplanes can land a day before the present Air Noise Boundary is reached?

QAC: An increase in aircraft movements (take-offs and landings) of approximately 15% can be accommodated before the Air Noise Boundary (ANB) at ZQN is reached and air travel in the region is constrained. As at February 2020 there are 18,000 scheduled aircraft movements (take- offs and landings) at Queenstown Airport (ZQN) per annum. Based on projected growth rates (currently moving at a slower pace than in recent years), we expect to reach the ANB at approximately 21,000 scheduled aircraft movements per annum. Our current modelling indicates this will be in about three years.

We note that you state on the Protect Queenstown website that the current ANB allows for 800,000 more passenger movements at Queenstown Airport. This is not the case. As at February 2020 there are 2.4 million passenger movements per annum.  At 21,000 flight movements (landings and take-offs) there will be approximately 2.8 million passenger movements (arrivals and departures) per year at Queenstown Airport

We Love Wakatipu:  Thanks for the clarification, which is the first we’ve heard (27.2.2020). That was the case when QAC launched their expansion plans and there were 15,718 scheduled flights (mid 2018). Shows just how quickly visitor arrivals are growing. We assume that is still not including the potential uptick you gain from existing increased plane capacity and noise reduction technology improvements?

Is the noise from non-scheduled planes and helicopters counted in this figure?

QAC: General aviation and non-scheduled aircraft movements are not included in the forecasted 21,000 aircraft movements.  However, they are accounted for in our ANB monitoring and modelling. If we reach the ANB, Queenstown Airport will not be able to accommodate any increase in scheduled services or in general aviation and non-scheduled aircraft movements.

We Love Wakatipu: Under QAC’s current proposal, scheduled flights would rise to 41,611 a year, with general aviation increasing to 48,806 a year, taking the total to 88,417 flights in/out of ZQN a year.  Remember, this isn’t including the potential margin they gain from improved airplane noise technology (currently up to 75% reduction is available), meaning many more flights could fit within the current (or expanded) air noise boundary. We still also do not know whether the crosswind runway will be closed (the next draft master plan will likely tell us), which would mean all scheduled AND unscheduled flights take off and land on the east-west axis, having significantly greater impact on those living under the flight path.

How does QAC monitor the ANB?

QAC: There are three air noise boundaries monitored – These are the Air Noise Boundary (65-60dB), the Outer Control Boundary (55-59dB) and mid-noise boundary (60-64dB). QAC engages independent acoustic engineers to monitor and model the ANB and noise contours. QAC is required to take measurements every three years. QAC however has opted to monitor annually.

What are the maximum (not average) noise levels we experience?

QAC: This is dependent on the individual’s location at the time of the noise event. Proximity, weather and type of aircraft all impact on how we experience noise. It is important to note that noise exposure and planning for the Queenstown Lakes District Plan follows the New Zealand Standard NZS 6805:1992 and QAC adheres to the District Plan.

We Love Wakatipu: We have recently been alerted to QLDC’s apparent intention to change the noise standard in the district plan (through stage III of the plan review, ongoing) to one that would allow significantly more noise within the air noise boundary, whether existing or expanded. Interestingly, this information isn’t out in the public arena.

If they change the ANB soon, what guarantee do we have they won’t change it again, and again?

QAC: Any request to expand the existing Air Noise Boundary must be made through a Plan Change application under the Resource Management Act 1991. A proposed change would be publicly notified and involve a full public consultation process, including a process of hearings and appeals.

We Love Wakatipu: of course the easy way to ensure that our community is not under constant threat of having to go through the cost (time and money) of a full RMA process to stop QAC from expanding its air noise boundary is for councillors to say “no” to QAC upfront.  Any such expansion would have to be in QAC’s statement of intent, which Councillors have to agree to each year. QLDC is charged under the Local Government Act with providing strategic direction for the SOI. So far, they haven’t committed to doing this. Though the February 25, 2020, move to exclude expansion of the noise boundary from Council’s statement of expectation for QAC was a good start… we just need to get them to finish the job by stating this as a mandatory strategic objective for QAC.

How much noise and how many people will have to endure the increased noise?

QAC: We have not made an application to expand the ANB at Queenstown Airport.

We Love Wakatipu: but the proposal currently on the table would include some 3000 more properties in the air noise boundary and many of our community’s favourite recreation spots, schools and communities.  The actual amount of noise is not specified, but it would come from 16 flights each peak hour, on average 145 flights per day during busy months and on the no doubt increasingly rare quiet months, an average 91 flights per day.

What is the maximum number of people and planes arriving or departing per hour under the present ANB at peak times now?

QAC: The maximum number of aircraft and passenger movement per hour is not determined by the ANB, but by the runway and terminal capacity. The current capacity is 12 aircraft movements (take-offs and landings) per hour.

We Love Wakatipu: But they are buying the adjacent 16 ha from Remarkables Park to enable 16 flights an hour during peak times under their proposed air noise boundary expansion.

And if the expansion goes ahead?

QAC: We have not made an application to expand the ANB at Queenstown Airport.

WLW: see our answer to above question.

What is the average length of stay in the Wakatipu of a tourist arriving or departing ZQN?

Destination Queenstown: For year ending September 2019, average length of stay in commercial accommodation was 2.46 nights.  This does not include Air B&B, holiday home rental or staying with friends and family.

What percentage of tourists that arrive at ZQN get a rental car?

QAC and DQ: neither organisation held this information.

How is the landing fee calculated? What costs does it cover?

QAC: Please see this Fact Sheet from the NZ Airports Association

How does the average residential ratepayer benefit from increased airport traffic?

QAC: We pay an annual dividend to our majority shareholder, QLDC. In 2019 the dividend paid to QLDC was $6.2million, or $237 per ratepayer. Increased profits will result in increased dividend payments.

WLW: Increased profits would increase the dividend – but they have to increase the profit first. With development plans of $400-500 million under their dual airport strategy (and we understand that is not counting a new terminal at ZQN if they get consent to expand their air noise boundary), debt servicing is likely to chew up a large chunk of profit. If there is any headroom for dividend, it is unlikely to cover the costs of infrastructure (roads, sewage, public transport, water et cetera), externalised onto the ratepayer, required to meet airport expansion.

There is also the problem of what happens if they run into problems with debt servicing should an event like coronavirus or another global financial meltdown severely reduce passenger numbers and therefore income. Bank of China is one of the three banks they have debt agreements with. Might we become the most far-flung satellite of China’s belt and roads initiative? Or might QAC instead sell yet more shares to Auckland International Airport (as they did, without consent from Council, in 2010), thus costing QLDC its controlling shareholder status?  There has been no analysis or risk assessment done on these issues.  Loss of all community/council control over an airport which is so central to our community would not be acceptable.

How does the average worker benefit from increased airport traffic? Do wages increase or do we just have more low paid workers living in the district?

QAC: Airports offer a range of employment and career opportunities so as they grow those opportunities increase. Generally, these jobs pay at or above the Living Wage. In November 2019, QAC became the first Living Wage Aotearoa accredited airport company in New Zealand.

QLDC: We are unable to provide a response for this and may be more appropriate to refer to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment for general comment on the correlation between flight frequency and employment. However, increased air traffic may offer increased employment opportunities.

WLW: Most jobs that might arise from airport expansion would be in the tourism industry, which pays two thirds of the average wage and accounts for the fact that Queenstown Lakes workers’ average earnings are 15% lower than nationwide.

If a plane carrying too much fuel has to land, where is the extra fuel dumped? How is it cleaned up? Who pays for the clean-up?

QAC: The A320 and B737-800 aircraft that fly in and out of Queenstown Airport can safely land with a full fuel tank, therefore do not carry ‘too much fuel to land’.

Is ZQN expanding, or is the expansion proposal just about more noise? If so, how?

QAC: We have not yet completed or shared a draft master plan for ZQN. Following the completion of QLDC’s work on the social and economic assessments of future airport development and the district spatial plan, QAC will prepare and share draft master plans for both Queenstown and Wanaka airports. We will consult fully with the community on these draft plans before any decisions about future airport development are made. As per our 2017 proposed master plan options, any future increase in air noise boundaries would require airport infrastructure to accommodate the increased aircraft and passenger movements under the District Plan.

WLW: See QAC answer to the question below.  Their 2017 master plan options include expanding the existing terminal, building a new terminal to the south or a new terminal to the north of the runway. All three would mean expansion of the existing terminal footprint, with more land being required for the second two options (i.e. above the 16 ha already been purchased from the Porter brothers). All three require a new parallel taxiway to allow increased peak hour traffic.

What is going to be done on the land that has been recently purchased from Remarkables Park?

QAC: In the future the 16 hectares of land alongside and to the south of the main runway will be developed for aerodrome purposes.

 If QAC expands and increases the flights, will the dividend income increase in real dollars for QLDC?  QAC: Yes.

WLW: dubious statement. Takes no account of debt servicing requirements, which will be substantive considering development costs of $400-500 million over around 20 years (more if ANB expansion is allowed and they need to build a new ZQN terminal).  Dividend is only paid if there is profit. There has been no risk analysis done on this issue. And our councillors have seen no business plan indicating QAC’s approach.

Will our rates be decreased? Or will the QAC development debt mean we lose out on the dividend income?

QAC: QLDC is responsible for setting rates.

WLW: see our answer to the above

Where would a pilot ditch an airliner if it failed on take-off or landing – especially on the eastern border of the airport?

QAC: This is a question best put to the airlines. QAC and the airlines that fly into ZQN undertake detailed scenario planning and simulations to ensure preparedness in the event of an emergency.

WLW: in which case we would expect QAC to know what the answer to this question is. Their options are limited, and none of them are good.

Are homeowners in some of the developments prohibited from objecting to airport expansion? If so, who oversees their welfare? Is anyone responsible for these residents?

QAC: Our community consultation processes have been and will continue to be open to all residents. QAC facilitates an independent Airport Noise Liaison Committee which includes representation from local residents’ associations.

QLDC: In general, there is no restriction on potentially affected homeowners participating in an RMA consultation process, regardless of whether they support or oppose a proposal. However, homeowners should refer to any covenants within their resource consent which may have been put in place by the subdivision developer.

WLW: However, most residents in the newer subdivisions directly under the flight path (e.g. Lake Hayes Estate and Shotover Country) have covenants attached to their property titles that forbid them from objecting to any QAC plans through any formal process.

What is the earliest and what is the latest a plane can arrive or depart ZQN? Is it guaranteed these times won’t change if expansion plans go ahead?

QAC: The consented operating hours at Queenstown Airport (ZQN) are 6am – 10pm. We are not proposing to change these operating hours.

WLW: Which means we could look forward to an even earlier wake-up call every day if the air noise boundary is expanded. In recent years, QAC proposed an extension to midnight; at the time it was a no-flyer. But there is no long-term guarantee that when airline demand push comes to shove, it wouldn’t happen. Best way to constrain hours is ensure demand doesn’t push too hard against the boundaries.

The only figures I can find on flight numbers are for scheduled flights. How many more private or non-scheduled flights are there in addition?

QAC : These figures are published each year for both ZQN and WKA in QAC’s Annual Profile. Please refer to p.6 of the Annual Profile 2019. Please note general aviation movements include fixed wing, helicopters, private jets and non-scheduled aircraft. https://www.queenstownairport.co.nz/assets/documents/Annual-Profile-2018-2019.pdf

WLW: according to QAC’s initial noise boundary expansion proposal (early 2018) scheduled flights at that time totalled 15,718 a year, with another 43,198 general aviation flights. Their proposed ANB expansion would take scheduled flights to 41,611 and general aviation to 48,806 (a total of 88,417 flights a year). Of course, this is not counting the increase in flights that noise reduction technology (already up to 75% reduction) would allow within either the existing or expanded air noise boundary, and issue not discussed by either QAC or QLDC.

Shouldn’t the businesses that benefit from tourist movements (especially QAC) be required to step up and pay for the extra infrastructure costs since they are encouraging the use of facilities? 

QAC: We invest considerably in our capital infrastructure.  In 2019, QAC paid a dividend of $6.2 million to QLDC.

WLW: QLDC refers to what the dividend goes towards further down the FAQ list.

The jet fuel smells are terrible and the noise is a huge distraction by The Landings and Remarkables Park Centre and surrounds. What are the health consequences?

QAC: Please refer to the Ministry for Health or the Southern District Health Board.

WLW: Or look at our protectqueenstown.nz website under health impacts.

Why can QAC dictate the amount of growth our community has?

QAC: We do not dictate growth in the community. That is dictated by the number of residents and visitors to the area. QLDC has been identified as a high growth council by Central Government due to the significant increase in resident population over several years.

QLDC: QAC does not dictate growth, but as a key infrastructure gateway is tasked with planning to accommodate the growth in demand.

WLW: No, QLDC, there is no legal mandate for QAC to “accommodate the growth in demand,” if that demand is from airlines rather than the local community.  This is a myth that both council and QLDC continue to perpetuate. Nor is QAC a “demand driven public infrastructure company,” as initially described in last year’s SOI, unless that is what our councillors tell QAC is their strategic objective.

QAC’s role, as a council -controlled organisation, is to meet the strategic objectives, both financial and non-financial, of its shareholders as set out in its statement of intent. QLDC is the controlling shareholder and thus has the power under the LGA to direct QAC as to these strategic objectives. So far, they haven’t. Though there was progress made on February 25, 2020, when councillors rejected mayoral pressure to exclude air noise expansion from their statement of expectations of QAC. That was a great step, but only the first of a long road.

Furthermore, airport growth is the only significant growth lever that Council (and therefore the community) has any control over. So allowing ANB expansion to accept 5.1 million PAX/year does de facto dictate our growth rate (again, acknowledging that this number could be considerably higher given capacity increases and noise reduction technology already available, which would allow more passengers within either the existing or expanded ANB).

Some 30% of our visitors currently arrive by air.  This percentage will grow if QAC’s current plan to meet airline demands, not community objectives, continues unabated.

 If QAC didn’t make the right forecast for the present ANB, why can they just change it? Why don’t they have to work within the limits they requested?

QLDC: QAC is able to seek an increase to air noise boundaries at any time as a Plan Change under the Resource Management Act 1991. Any such proposed change would need to be publicly notified with full public consultation, including a process of hearings and appeals.

WLW: Or council could just listen to its community and say no to any expansion of the air noise boundary in the statement of intent process, as is its mandate under the Local Government Act.  Once it does this, QAC must operate within its existing ANB. This is how the system is supposed to work, with the council’s role being supporting democracy and its community’s social, economic, environmental and cultural well-beings. Otherwise, the community has to fight its own council (therefore having to pay twice, as council’s case would be ratepayer funded) through the RMA system – costly in both time and resources. And incredibly divisive.

If they change the ANB soon, what guarantee do we have they won’t change it again, and again? Where does it stop?  How much noise and how many people will have to endure the increased noise?

QLDC: See above response.

WLW: Where does it stop? Good question.  At some point, within such a constrained land area, there becomes no more opportunity for hammering locals by further growth.  They cannot expand ZQN for wide body jets without extending the runway either over the river or over the lake. Neither is tenable, on any front.

How will the locals get to and from work if the road traffic has increased due to more flights?

QLDC: We are already planning improvements to the roading network recognising that traffic flows will continue to increase with a growing resident population regardless of airport capacity. It is entirely likely that should flight capacity not increase that visitors will increasingly arrive by road and therefore Council needs to ensure this increased demand on the roads can be met. This is complemented by the focus on delivering affordable public transport in both Queenstown and Wānaka, and providing safe, viable alternatives for active travel (e.g. walking and cycling). Since its launch in 2017, the Queenstown-Wakatipu Orbus service has seen a significant uptake in passenger number including strong use by airport users.

WLW: Council’s 2018 – 2028 Long Term Plan does not allow for air noise boundary expansion, so the turbocharged growth it would allow is not accommodated within that. Council’s CFO told WLW that he could not strip out the costs of the infrastructure expansion would require. Hmmm. Then who can? Council’s current multi-million-dollar roading plan is reliant on an unprecedented (and unlikely, one might think) NZTA subsidy of over 80% that Council has requested, but not yet received. So it’s all a bit murky.  It is unlikely, however, that the thousands of Sydneysiders and Melbournites who now arrive for a long weekend skiing or cycling would drive here. No one was able to tell us the percentage of tourists who do rent cars, but whether they arrive at seek UN or another airport is unlikely to make much difference to their decision on that front if they plan to travel. We totally agree that public transport and active travel should be part of the equation to mitigate this. It might help, then, to make the signage on the bus shelters at the airport readable by those visitors exiting the airport.

How much does each tourist arriving or departing through ZQN generate in revenue for QLDC?

QLDC: The direct measure for the overall financial contribution to QLDC would be the dividend that QAC pays annually. For the last two financial years, this dividend has contributed in excess of $5.3M. The Economic Impact Assessment being undertaken by Martin Jenkins will look at the broader economic benefit to the district.

WLW: We are likely to lose the annual dividend for many years to debt servicing of the $400-$500 million development cost of QAC’s preferred dual airport management plan. And any dividend we do receive is unlikely to cover the extra infrastructural costs that QAC would externalise on to our community.  Not that either Council or community has seen any business plan from QAC outlining the costs and benefits. Surely we aren’t relying on MartinJenkins consultants to provide this based on community feedback and a literature review?

How does the average residential ratepayer benefit from increased airport traffic?

QLDC:  There are a few possible benefits to ratepayers. Firstly, QAC annually pays a dividend to QLDC as its major shareholder which offsets some of the costs of capital expenditure programmes. Increased flights may lead to an increase in dividend which has the potential to influence any proposed increases to the rates paid by residents. For local airport users there is the potential for increased accessibility with greater choice in flight times. It’s also worth noting that one in two locals work in the tourism industry which is naturally linked to the airport as a key gateway to the district.

WLW: We agree that airport users might benefit from increased connectivity and we appreciate that QLDC did at least hedge its bets by saying there are “a few possible benefits to ratepayers”. Their qualified enthusiasm is justified, but again, it is worrying that there is apparently no knowledge of the cost/benefit equation of QAC’s plans to our community. Dividends are unlikely to increase, more likely to disappear. Ratepayers will have to stump up for the infrastructure costs (roading, sewage et cetera) QAC will externalise on to ratepayers. Most likely jobs will be in tourism, earning two thirds the national average. While increased connectivity might “attract talent,” as some in the business sector claim, it will attract a whole lot more tourists.  To boost our non-tourism sector requires a whole lot more constructive and proactive moves by Council and others than just more flights, more noise.

Where does the dividend income go that QLDC gets from QAC?

QLDC: The dividend contributes toward the QLDC capital investment programme. Without this we would need to either reduce forecast capital spend or increase rates.

WLW: the community only gets this dividend if QAC makes a profit, which is unlikely considering the debt servicing load its current development plans would incur.  Also the infrastructural costs of meeting the tourism growth QAC’s current expansion plans would require (e.g. roads, sewage) are all externalised on to the ratepayers. Any continued dividend we do receive is unlikely to cover these costs, for many years

If QAC expands and increases the flights, will the dividend income increase in real dollars for QLDC? Will our rates be decreased? Or will the QAC development debt mean we lose out on the dividend income?

QLDC:  At this point in time it is not possible to provide a response. Any future effect on rates would depend on reinvestment plans for QAC and how that may affect the dividend.

WLW: Hmmmm.  So they are asking consultants MartinJenkins to come up with an economic impact assessment of four different airport growth scenarios, including QAC’s preferred dual airport growth strategy, and neither QAC or QLDC have any idea themselves? QLDC’s chief financial officer has acknowledged he can’t identify the impact QAC’s expansion plans would have on our infrastructural bill. QAC has not given councillors a business plan. Wouldn’t understanding the costs and benefits of QAC’s turbocharged growth plans be fundamental to any consideration by Council of saying yes to them?

Why is QLDC continuing to support Destination Queenstown?

Whilst Destination Queenstown receives some funding from QLDC, it is not its only source of funding as it is a membership organisation. QLDC collects payments from Destination Queenstown’s members on its behalf, as it does for all RTO’s in the district. It is also important to our local economy, and the largest local industry, to have a body supporting them with a long-term approach that helps overcome peaks and dips in visitor numbers.

It seems that many of the businesses from the Queenstown CBD have moved to Frankton. Why has QLDC allowed so much development surrounding the airport – the airport is bang in the middle of all this! Is this a colossal failure to plan?

QLDC: It’s an important part of planning land use throughout the district to ensure there is sufficient capacity for industrial and retail as well as residential. Frequently a range of these different uses can coexist successfully, which can be seen both in our district and throughout the world. This specific development around the airport allows for that mixed use and is in line with the Operative District Plan, which was subject to community consultation during its development.

WLW: Most of the development on Frankton Flats has been the result of developer driven plan changes, outside of the usual district plan review process. These are often highly litigious, with urban planning principles and community benefit often getting lost in the process. These plan changes have seen loss of the industrial land the district needs, in favour of retail land that brings the developer more income.

But the next step in this process might be at the behest and with the blessing of council, under the draft Frankton masterplan. This includes a four-storey urban corridor built up tight to the road from the BP roundabout to the Shotover Bridge. Currently, this masterplan does not include provision for expansion of the air noise boundary.  But what it does do is potentially create a chokehold far worse than Shotover Street on our main arterial to the north and east.  And you think the road congestion currently is bad?

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