Central Otago is not one of those regions suffering economic depression. Far from it! In fact the entire region is experiencing an economic boom. As in other regions, aviation activity is a reasonably accurate guide to prosperity. At present Central Otago people own a larger part of an aircraft per head than anywhere else in the country.
Queenstown Airport has rocketed ahead and will soon be second only to Auckland in the number of commercial flights. Wanaka is also booming and like Queenstown has become a base for a number of tourism-focussed aviation operations and aircraft maintenance companies.
Now the long neglected Alexandra Airport, operated by the Central Otago District Council, is experiencing a rapid revival. This airport is the base for the local aero club but in the past was an important location in second-tier aviation in New Zealand.
The airport saw South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand (SPANZ) operate Douglas DC-3 services from December 1960 to February 1966. Mount Cook Airlines used Britten-Norman Islanders from 1969 to 1991, connecting to Dunedin and Queenstown. In fact for a number of years Alexandra Airport was the air link in and out of Queenstown as the local airfield was not up to standard for commercial flights!
Goldfields Air flew from here to Christchurch during 1985-86. Pacifica Air flew into Alexandra during 1988-89, and Airlink during 1989. In 2007-2008 Mainland Air trialled scheduled services from Dunedin to Alexandra and Queenstown, but due to lack of patronage these did not continue. However, that company is often chartered by the Southern District Health Board to fly medical specialists to and from Alexandra out of Dunedin.
In recent years there has been little real activity at Alexandra Airport — however, this is changing rapidly. The Central Otago District Council is aware of the nationwide interest in the region and that a fully operational airport is essential for the economic vitality of the Alexandra district. The council is both the landowner and the airport authority at Alexandra.
Despite a projected cost of over $500,000 to bring Alexandra Airport up to an acceptable standard, the council has gone ahead and has a development plan that is already being undertaken. It has repaired and maintained the 1.2km sealed runway, the two grass runways and the parking apron, and rebuilt the terminal building.
The lack of space at Queenstown and Wanaka has increased interest in Alexandra Airport and the council is coping with a growing demand for private hangars and an increasing number of inquiries relating to future commercial aviation.
As well as upgrading the existing facilities at the airport, the council has agreed to the surveying off and leasing of lots on the field for private hangars and hangars with accommodation. At present there is one new hangar with two-bedroom accommodation with two more under construction for fly-in visitors.
The council is also negotiating with two other aviation-inclined parties who are seeking leases of land parcels on the field for hangars and accommodation. This is not a totally new trend. As New Zealanders live longer now than in former years and as technology has somewhat simplified aviation, more and more people want to keep on flying in their retirement.
The Central Otago District Council is aware of this and along with the growing demand for building sites at the airport, it is investigating ways to upgrade the present electricity and water services at the site. This is all part of a policy for the council to be ready for future trends. In other areas of Central Otago the steep increase in local populations has caught out developers, and the council is preparing for a steep increase in the population both resident and temporary of the Alexandra district. There are 29 sites earmarked for hangars.
With this in mind, the council is reviewing the current land zoning regulations and exploring how to best provide for aviation associated activity at the airport. It sees it is important to “get planning right” at the early stages of development and “to ensure future development opportunities are not compromised”.
The council is planning for the maintenance and operation of Alexandra Airport to be self-funding, and while at present the only organisations flying in and out of Alexandra are the local aero club and a gliding operation, it will not be long before it is the centre of considerable commercial attention. This has not been lost on Z Aviation, which recently installed a strategically placed new aviation fuel point. This is a major plus for both private and commercial aviation.
Central Otago District Council is well aware that the airport is located within a popular tourism region. It is close to a well-serviced town (Alexandra) and it has clear skies, low levels of air traffic and 80 hectares of land associated with the airport. It is therefore well placed for development as a second-tier airport.
- Report and photography by Peter Owen.
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