What are QAC’s plans for Queenstown Airport?

QAC’s statement of intent, agreed to with caveats by Council in December 2019, includes expanding air noise boundaries to more than double passenger movements and almost triple flights from April 2018 levels.

In October 2018, in response to our community’s vociferous opposition, QAC had put these plans on the backburner, seeking instead a $400 million redevelopment at Wanaka Airport. That did not go down well in Wanaka.

The pushback from Wanaka means the gas under ZQN expansion plans is back on simmer.  The heat will remain on Queenstown Airport expansion until – if – council tells QAC that air noise boundary expansion is off the table. 

The air noise boundary restricts the number of scheduled flights allowed at the airport by limiting the total “bucket of noise” flights can produce over a 24-hour period. The proposed expansion would let QAC more than double current passenger movements, from around 2.4 million a year now to 5.1 million by 2045. And much, much more than that, as planes get quieter and capacity grows. Because our council’s and community’s only control over numbers arriving at ZQN is this air noise boundary.  Quieter, bigger planes will mean many, many more visitors arrive.

When QAC aired its proposal in 2018, ZQN had 15,718 scheduled flights annually. QAC’s plan is for 41,611 scheduled flights a year.  Their figures show this would almost triple the average number of daily flights during busy months, from 50 to 145, and in quiet ones from 30 to 91.

These flight and passenger numbers do not include the general aviation flights that don’t run on schedules – all the helicopters, private jets and sightseeing planes that now mainly use the crosswind runway. QAC is closing this runway, so ALL flights will be using the main runway that takes planes over most of our settlements.

Under its dual airport strategy, QAC wants to host 7.1 million scheduled passenger movements* a year by 2045, between Queenstown and Wanaka airports.  But it is pushing for expansion now because it’s running out of the current noise boundary 12 years ahead of time. So think 7.1 million passenger movements by 2032.

According to figures provided by QAC, 57% of those who arrive at Queenstown Airport leave for elsewhere. We are currently New Zealand’s fourth busiest airport, because we are treated as a South Island hub to feed tourists to the rest of the lower South Island.

That is a lot of bums on seats, a lot of rental cars on our roads, a lot of strain on our infrastructure and a heck of a lot of noise, for little local benefit. During peak hours, we’d hear one flight in or out every four minutes.  That’s a lot of backyard barbecues, podcasts, schooling, sleep, recreation and backcountry silence interrupted.

* QAC documentation speaks in terms of annual passenger movements.  Halve this number for passenger numbers.

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