Aero club being forced out
After 45 years of being based at Lucas Place on Queenstown Airport, the Wakatipu Aero Club now faces extinction, according to club president Adrian Snow. The Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC), which owns the airport, has given notice it will not renew the club’s lease when it expires at the end of June.
This is one of the consequences of the rapid growth in infrastructure and services offered at the airport as Queenstown booms. Although aircraft have been flying from what was the Frankton airfield since the mid-1930s, the rapid increase in the airport’s facilities and operations in the last few years has been driven by a tourism boom and the choice of Queenstown by burgeoning numbers of overseas visitors.
Unlike most other tourism destinations, Queenstown has both summer and winter seasons, reflected in the growing number of international flights in and out of the airport.
However, this has brought its own problems, a major one being a shortage of expansion room. Facilities and services are growing rapidly, but there is little room for expansion at the Frankton site. The nature of the terrain is a major factor but also a long-running and as yet unresolved dispute with developer Remarkables Park Ltd over a parcel of land adjacent to the airport.
Scott Paterson, QAC CEO, acknowledges that the Wakatipu Aero Club is an important tenant of the corporation but says the demand-driven commercial operations (650,000 passengers annually) and the shortage of land at the airport mean the area currently occupied by the aero club is needed desperately.
He says he really would like to relocate general aviation to the area currently under dispute with Remarkables Park but cannot do so until this is resolved. He sees a possibility of the Wakatipu Aero Club’s commercial arm operating elsewhere on the airport but can see no place in the future for the airport as the base for the club’s flight training and suggests this operation could be transferred to the Wanaka Airport.
However, Wakatipu Aero Club president Adrian Snow says this would not work out. He says there are already two flight training operations at Wanaka and another at nearby Tarras. His club has investigated the idea of relocating training flights to Wanaka and found it would not be feasible.
He believes that if the club were to have its training and commercial operations separated it would be forced to close. He and his committee are not taking the matter lying down. He has addressed a meeting of the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) on the matter. The council owns about 75 percent of the shares in QAC, with the balance held by Auckland International Airport Limited.
On 26 February, Adrian addressed a full meeting of the council on the future of the Wakatipu Aero Club. He was severely critical of the airport company’s decision not to offer the club a renewal of its premises.
He said its decision was contrary to its stated strategic objectives under its SOI. These stated that the airport company’s intention to be “an outstanding corporate citizen” and, what is more, that it would make a positive difference to the Queenstown Lakes Region.
Adrian pointed out to the full council that the airport company’s decision not to renew the aero club lease was contrary to the obligations imposed on the QLDC by the Local Government Act.
In his address Adrian requested the council, in its role of major shareholder, to consider its obligations to ensure community social interests are being met by a publicly owned body. He followed this up by requesting the council to reassess the community and social contributions of the Wakatipu Aero Club, including its role as a major safety component.
At the same meeting, the QAC’s draft statement of intent was tabled for the council. This discloses that Lot 6, the land under dispute with Remarkables Park Ltd, is still in the courts and a final decision is unlikely before the end of this year.
- Report by John King, photograph supplied by QAC.
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