Questions flying after airport focus groups

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Albert Town could experience up to 38 jets per day flying overhead if one of many future scenarios for Wanaka Airport comes to pass.

Albert Town Community Association chairman Jim Cowie and committee member Nathan Weathington attended a focus group meeting organised by MartinJenkins, the consultant engaged by Queenstown Lakes District Council. But confusion still reigned for many people over what the future of Wanaka Airport may look like, they said.

Association committee member Nathan Weathington said their biggest problem was information. ‘‘We want to educate our community and tell them what is proposed so they can have an educated, accurate opinion on the subject.’’

Hypothetical future scenarios were presented in the focus group session:
A gradual growth at Queenstown Airport but no scheduled air services at Wanaka Airport;
an expanded noise boundaries at Queenstown Airport allowing for an increase in the number and frequency of flights; a dual airport scenario with air services at both Queenstown and Wanaka airports; and a fourth scenario of a new international airport at an alternative location.

Mr Weathington said there were very few specifics in these scenarios, and discussions about the potential range of scheduled air services flying over Albert Town varied from two or three flights per day to 75 flights per day.
‘‘Between those two numbers there is no way to have an accurate opinion.’’ A dual airport scenario could mean Wanaka absorbed a third of the anticipated growth at Queenstown Airport.

Queenstown Airport Corporation had capacity of about 21,000 flights per year and was forecasting demand could grow to about 42,000 flights per year by 2031, Mr Weathington said.

If an expanded Wanaka Airport took a third of these flights this would mean about 14,000 flights per year, or about 38 flights per day.
Mr Cowie said another possibility discussed was changing the axis of Wanaka Airport.
‘‘There is a view, and I don’t know where it originated, that they may turn the axis of the runway.’’

The runway could not be turned north because of the state highway near the end of the runway, but it could be turned to the southwest.
‘‘And then you are talking about a flight path that would be over Wanaka.’’

MartinJenkins principal consultant Jason Leung-Wai said community groups were first advised of the February 17 to 19 focus groups on February 3.
They restricted the number of people to attending from each community group because focus groups worked best with small groups, he said.
‘‘Given the large amount of groups involved, and the importance of engaging and getting perspectives from as many of them as possible, it would have proved impractical to have multiple group members attend.’’

He reiterated the scenarios presented at the focus groups were hypothetical and would be used to explore how impacts could change, he said.
‘‘The scenarios were not released early so that the focus group did not fixate on, or try to promote their own scenarios, but rather on the general impacts airports enable in the district (positive and negative), which impacts are of concern to the community, and which ones of those are most important or relevant to the community.’’

The online survey running from February 20 to March 11 was available for anyone to fill out, even members of groupings that had attended a focus group.
‘‘Three weeks is a typical time frame for online surveys,’’ he said.
‘‘Most survey responses will occur in the first week.
‘‘An evaluation by a large survey platform company showed that 80% of responses occurred in the first week, 11% in the second week and only 4% in the third week.’’