By James Beech – Otago Daily Times
A new $10 million international arrivals hall and baggage reclaim area are among several developments planned for Queenstown Airport to cater for phenomenal growth in passenger numbers.
The Queenstown Times was on Friday given an exclusive tour of one of the lower South Island’s most important commercial assets, and given an update on its latest enhancements and $40 million worth of infrastructure projects planned for the next three years, by Queenstown Airport Corporation chief executive Steve Sanderson.
“We’re building a temporary extension of the international arrivals hall this winter and during the next six months we’re going through a planning phase of designing the new international arrivals area and baggage receiving area,” he said.
“To expand the international arrivals hall, we’re building an extension veranda which will be enclosed.
The temporary veranda and permanent hall will together double the existing capacity.
“Currently, we can only fit 170 people into our international arrivals hall at a time and we now receive multiple jets. Those aircraft have to keep their on-time performance, and we’ve got to disembark those passengers so they can prepare for their departures.”
The hall project would be built within the airport’s designation and only building consent would need to be applied for.
Construction would start immediately after the winter season and take three to six months.
Mr Sanderson said the design of the new hall was modular, so it could be extended quite easily as required.
“The benefits will include less congestion and it’s really important for our customers as we are the first impression of Queenstown and the region, and we are also the last impression.”
The airport now has six jet stands, but up to seven jet airliners are on the ground during peak times.
The stands were definitely at capacity, Mr Sanderson said.
Three jet stands will be realigned and one jet stand will be built in the next couple of months, as the airlines had requested.
The stands are designed to be “power in, power out” – which should prove to be more efficient, as aircraft will be able to reverse out without the need for a tug vehicle.
“Our master plan will allow us to go out to 10 jet stands, so that’s one reason for the realignment, to maximise the way that we do that,” Mr Sanderson said.
“We’ll go to eight this coming winter.”
Runway lights from Europe are scheduled to be installed this summer. The lights will improve visibility for incoming pilots on cloudy days and help jets take off when the sun sets in winter, about 5pm.
“Air New Zealand, this summer, is running flights out of Queenstown at 8pm.
“On Sunday, at 8pm, you can do a full day here before going back to Auckland, so the next part of the constraint is how do we open up flights to 8pm in winter time, and that’s what the runway lights are there for.”
Last month, independent commissioners recommended the Queenstown Lakes District Council not approve a proposal to the extend the airport’s operating hours from 10pm to midnight.
Mr Sanderson said a second round of community and business consultation followed and the airport corporation decided not to proceed through the Environment Court.
The issue was “parked” and operating hours remained from 6am to 10pm, he said.
“The airlines, particularly, see the benefits of going to midnight for efficiency,” Mr Sanderson said.
“They want to do four cycles to Australia.
“At 10pm, that takes away that efficiency.
“I guess there’s a little bit of disappoint from the airlines, but the business community did not have the drive to take it through.”
The critical runway end safety area (Resa), which will secure international flights at the airport, is scheduled to be completed by May 10.
The deadline for the mandatory Civil Aviation Authority safety requirement is October.
About 300,000cu m of fill is still required to build the 800,000cu m platform, which will rise 45m from the bank of the Shotover River and up to the level of the existing runway.
The 90m-long and -wide Resa platform will sit on the terraced and landscaped fill and will only be used by under-shooting or over-shooting aircraft.
The installation of an 80m-long, 3m-high jet blast safety fence, at the western end of the main runway, was completed early last month, as part of the Resa requirement.
The $800,000 fibreglass structure was designed to shield vehicles and pedestrians from blasts emitted by jet engines during takeoff, and replaced a basic earth bund.
The issue of dust whipped up by high winds and aircraft taking off had been resolved now vegetation had grown around the fence as part of the beautification project, Mr Sanderson said.
The $5 million overlay of the runway was finished late last year.
A new taxiway will be cut out in the next month, with fill transported to the Resa site. The $8 million taxiway was likely to be sealed in the next two to three years.
Terminal building forecourt and car-parking enhancements were expected in the next two to three years, Mr Sanderson said.
The airport is the second-largest rental car depot after Auckland.
Inside the terminal, Air New Zealand during the festive period installed a hub of nine self-service check-in kiosks and a bag-drop facility for its domestic and transtasman passengers in the carrier’s check-in area.
The hub followed the addition of seven check-in desks last February, which were installed to cater for the introduction of Jetstar and Pacific Blue airlines. The airport now has 23 check-in desks.
Mr Sanderson said Queenstown Airport experienced an “outstanding” 37% growth in international passengers and 12% growth in domestic passengers, or an overall 16% lift in passengers, in the first six months of its financial year, in December, on the corresponding period one year earlier.
The number of international seats into the airport was up by 32%. Domestic and international loadings were running at 80%, up 3% on last year, Mr Sanderson said.
“There’s good competition on the routes, which is of benefit to visitors coming to Queenstown.”
Passenger figures for the latest festive period eclipsed the traditionally busy winter peak month for the first time, with an “all but 100% lift on internationals over last December”.
Thirty international flights a week were scheduled for the 2011 winter season, “a substantial uplift” from the 22 international flights a week last winter, Mr Sanderson said.
“It will definitely be a record winter for the airport and I’m confident that will flow on to the town as well.”