International at last - even if it's just for fuel

SOUTHERN STOPOVER: Air New Zealand A320 Airbus flights bound for Australia may be landing at Invercargill Airport soon.
SOUTHERN STOPOVER: Air New Zealand A320 Airbus flights bound for Australia may be landing at Invercargill Airport soon.

International flights may finally be landing in Invercargill – but the passengers won't be allowed off the planes.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said yesterday it was looking at using Invercargill Airport as an occasional fuelling stop on flights between Queenstown and three Australian cities during winter.

The company's trans-Tasman A320 Airbus aircraft that fly from Queenstown to Australia during the ski season stop over in Christchurch about twice a month to refuel when load factors and weather prevent them from filling up with fuel in Queenstown.

They then continue their journey from Christchurch to Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

However, because the trip adds up to two hours to the trans-Tasman journey and consumes additional fuel, arrangements are now being made to refuel the planes in Invercargill, which has an international-size runway. This route would save about an hour in flying time and consume less fuel, Air New Zealand said yesterday.

But the passengers won't be allowed off the planes in Invercargill because it is not an international airport and does not have border facilities.

"All passengers will be required to remain on board during the stop, under customs supervision," the airline spokeswoman said.

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt and city council chief executive Richard King met Air New Zealand bosses to discuss the proposal this week.

Mr Shadbolt said Air New Zealand had approved trial runs into Invercargill this winter, with customs officers from South Port to supervise the planes while they were being refuelled in Invercargill.

The best scenario would have been for international passengers to get off the planes in Invercargill, but after four previous attempts to get trans-Tasman flights into Invercargill had failed during 18 years, it was "kind of a victory", Mr Shadbolt said. "It's not what we had hoped for, but it's still something. Anything is better than nothing, that's the way I am looking at it."

"The good thing about this is we can only benefit in terms of landing fees and staff training.

"There will be no costs to the city – and we will benefit in terms of image, big Airbuses flying over the city, the drama, the excitement."

He expected the first A320 trans- Tasman Airbus flight to land in Invercargill in July – and the welcome mat would be out.

"I am going to be organising a band at the airport, a big sign saying `Welcome'. I am going to be giving it all the hype and excitement that I possibly can."

And he wasn't losing hope that the international passengers might get off the plane and step on Invercargill turf one day.

"You never know, it just needs someone to get sick on the plane and they will have to let them off."

But that appears to be the only way it will happen in the foreseeable future, with the Air New Zealand spokeswoman saying Air New Zealand had no plans to establish trans-Tasman services from Invercargill Airport.


Air navigation service provider Airways New Zealand yesterday unveiled "world-leading" changes at Queenstown Airport, including blanket use of technology designed to guide pilots who take off and land in mountainous terrain.

Passenger numbers at the airport, the fastest growing in New Zealand, are expected to quadruple by 2037.

Airways New Zealand group manager of operations Lewis Jenkins said the changes would bring Queenstown up to a standard comparable with Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland international airports.

"I think it's world-leading. Queenstown is no longer a quiet regional airport ... This stuff now is a generational change."

A strategic review of the airport for 2011 till 2016 identified new procedures, technology and flight paths needed to meet the projected growth.

The existing air traffic management system, which uses point-to-point flying with ground-based navigation, will be replaced with a performance-based navigation system.

Performance navigation uses instruments and satellites to permit flying on any flight path, allowing shorter routes and the avoidance of obstacles.

Using this system means aircraft can land and take off in mountainous terrain in low cloud or bad weather.

Mr Jenkins said the required navigation performance (RNP) technology was already installed at Queenstown but airlines and air traffic controllers would need training before the system switched to satellite-based navigation.

Air New Zealand, Qantas and Jetstar fleets are equipped with RNP technology.

"In a challenging terrain environment such as Queenstown, the application of RNP procedures allows aircraft to fly very precise paths with an accuracy of less than a wingspan.

"This precision allows pilots to fly around and between mountainous obstacles and to descend to lower levels without visual terrain reference," the report says.

In November, new departure and takeoff flight paths will be introduced at Queenstown to allow simultaneous takeoffs and landings. Existing flight paths cross, which means only one commercial jet can take off or land at a time.

New flight paths will allow 10 aircraft movements an hour instead of four.

Airways also plans to expand the airport's surveillance system, an array of radar and other sensors, to provide full coverage of aircraft movements in the south, including Dunedin and Invercargill airspace.

Flights to and from Queenstown are sometimes delayed or diverted because bad weather prevents takeoff or landing but the changes could significantly reduce this.

The Southland Times