Queenstown Airport has busiest ever winter, heading for record 2014
By Tina Morrison
Sept. 19 (BusinessDesk) - Queenstown Airport Corp, the nation's fourth busiest airport, handled a record number of passengers this winter as it benefited from increased flights and capacity, prompting it to install a $450,000 'pop-up' tent structure for international passengers as it finalises plans for expanding its terminal.
Trans-Tasman flights were 25 percent ahead of last winter, with the airport hitting a record 20 international flights on several days during peak times in July and August . Passenger numbers rose 7.9 percent to 354,392 in the three months through August, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the company's monthly passenger data.
Queenstown Airport, the gateway to New Zealand's Southern Lakes region, is heading for record passenger numbers in calendar 2014, surpassing 2013 which was itself the busiest on record. The airport is handling more passengers as it benefits from airlines such as Air New Zealand, Qantas Airways and its subsidiary, Jetstar, and Virgin Australia adding more flights and larger planes from Australia. The region is luring more visitors thanks to its snowfields and other outdoor adventure activities as well as key events such as the annual Winter Festival, the New Zealand Golf Open and the upcoming inaugural Queenstown International Marathon.
"Passenger-wise it's very busy," said chief executive Scott Paterson. "We were very busy, a very hectic little international airport during winter."
The passenger throughput was even more extraordinary given the airport has a daylight curfew which prohibits flights beyond about 5:30pm in winter, he said.
The latest data shows Queenstown passenger numbers in the year through August are tracking 5 percent ahead of the year earlier period, led by a 30 percent gain in international passenger volumes.
"The outlook remains strong," Paterson said. "We need a bigger permanent terminal to handle the existing volumes. We foresee greater volumes again next winter."
Jetstar is scheduled to start a new three-day-a-week service from the Gold Coast in Australia in December, which is likely to attract skiers next winter, while other airlines are expected to advise of their winter services in a couple of months, he said.
The airport company, which is 75.1 percent owned by Queenstown Lakes District Council and 24.9 percent by Auckland International Airport, expects to sign off on plans for a new terminal in the next couple of weeks. It's expected to be completed by June next year in time for the peak winter season, Paterson said.
The 4080-square metre expansion would expand its terminal by about a third, according to a report in the Otago Daily Times, which cited the building consent application to the council. That would negate the need for the 'pop-up' tent, Paterson said.
He declined to comment on the likely cost of the terminal extension as the airport is in the process of tendering for the build. The airport would fund the project through a mixture of cash and debt and already has facilities in place to fund it, he said.
In future years, the airport expects to benefit from after-dark flying in winter, which would reduce congestion around peak daylight hours and encourage weekend leisure travellers from Auckland and Australia in winter.
New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority and Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority have given provisional approval to night operations, but they are unlikely to be introduced before winter 2016, Paterson said.