Queenstown Airport upgrade to help pilots

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