Land battle key to airport expansion

Queenstown Airport's continued expansion as the fastest growing aerodrome in New Zealand depends upon the outcome of a legal battle over land suitable for development.

Queenstown Airport Corporation chairman John Gilks yesterday told Queenstown Lakes District councillors that the six months to December was financially solid, driven by a 21 per cent increase in passenger numbers.

Settlement of a legal battle over undeveloped land known as Lot 6 was unlikely before 2015 but this land would provide critical long-term benefit for the airport and the region, he said.

The Lot 6 land south of the airport was subject to a notice of requirement and labelled as a nationally significant proposal by the Environment Minister.

However, landowner Remarkables Park opposed the expansion bid on its "priceless" land and the battle was referred directly to the Environment Court.

Mr Gilks said the purpose of the land - if acquired - was general aviation including tourism flights, scenic operators and heliski operations. These operators also favoured development of the south side, he said.

"If we do not do it now then people sitting around this (council) table in 20 years are going to say it was a very sad day.

"The board and management are determined to see this through to a good outcome."

Queenstown Airport chief executive Scott Paterson said last month's passenger numbers increased by 11 per cent compared to January last year.

By 2016 the corporation would potentially start the next terminal expansion focusing on the international sector.

Lot 6 was extremely litigious and proceedings were slow and frustrating, he said.

This year priorities included spending money in the terminal, changing the retail mix and, potentially, introducing evening flights during winter.

Already the airport was almost at peak capacity for flights this winter, up from 34 per week last year to 41, he said.

Mr Gilks said the increase in passenger numbers was directly attributable to the strategic and promotional alliance with Auckland International Airport.

"It's still a very sound balance sheet to go forward for the next few years.

"The results are in line, the company is performing well, it's in a good solid sound financial position."

Bottom line profit was up 10 per cent, an after-tax gain of $3.1 million compared to $2.8m in the six months to December 2011.

The Southland Times