From airstrip to airfield
- Queenstown Airport was first granted its license to operate by the Civil Aviation Authority on 14 August 1935. The Frankton Aerodrome Board was established in December 1937, made up of representatives from the Lake County, Borough of Queenstown and Borough of Arrowtown (it was disbanded in 1958).
- In anticipation of new airfield use, Queenstown-Mount Cook Airways Ltd was formed in October 1938 by the Wigley family and secured a licence to operate from the newly prepared Queenstown Aerodrome.
- To 31 March 1939 Queenstown-Mount Cook Airways had carried 719 passengers in 219 flights but by early 1940, due to the early effects of World War II, all civilian flying ceased.
Post-war, in December 1946, Bill Hewett commenced charter operations from Queenstown, calling the company Southern Scenic Air Trips. Renamed Southern Scenic Air Services, Hewett was soon joined by other ex-servicemen; Tex Smith, Fred ‘Popeye’ Lucas and Barry Topliss (recognise some local street names around the airport??). Southern Scenic was based at Frankton, operating out of the old Frankton Jockey Club buildings, and
developed a range of operations. It become well-known over the next 20 years for its scenic, scheduled services, floatplane flying, supply-dropping and agricultural work. It established the first scheduled air service from Queenstown to Dunedin from 17 July 1950 and prepared the first airfield at Milford Sound, operational from May 1952.
- By the 1950s, commercial flights in and out of the airport were commonplace, with the majority going between Queenstown and Milford Sound. Pioneering regional airlines Southern Scenic Air Services, Ritchie Air Services, West Coast Airways, Tourist Air Travel and Mt Cook Airline, introduced scenic flying, supply drops, early agricultural work, scheduled services, float planes and tourist work. From the mid-50s to the early 70s, Dominies were the dominant aircraft used for scenic, scheduled and charter work at Queenstown Airport.
Mount Cook Airlines secured a license to fly its DC-3 aircraft into Queenstown, and the Frankton Aerodrome was extended to accommodate these larger aircraft. This included the opening of the first small terminal building and lengthening the grass runway to 1500m.. The first flight was on 3 February 1964 from Christchurch which carried 21-32 passengers and 2 crew.
- On 14 October 1968, the Hawker Sidley started operating between Christchurch and Queenstown, carrying 4258 passengers. Queenstown Airport also got a crash fire tender.
- In 1969 moves begin to expand the airport terminal to respond to increased demand.
- In January 1973 construction began in on a new terminal building with cafeteria, baggage claim area, booking area and carpark, which was completed in 1974.
- In the mid-1980s Newmans Air began a short-lived service flying Dash 8 turbo-prop aircraft.
- Ansett New Zealand started the first jet aircraft flights (BAe 146 Whisper Jet) into Queenstown Airport in 1989.
- In 1992 Air New Zealand introduced Boeing 737-200 flights into Queenstown. The aircraft were fitted with hush kits to comply with local noise requirements.
From airfield to airport
Queenstown Airport is now the 4th busiest airport in the country by passenger numbers and services four commercial airlines, commercial general aviation (small fixed wing aircraft and helicopters) and private jets. Over time, scheduled airline services have moved from ATR aircraft (68-seater turboprops) to predominantly jet operations (A320s/Boeing 737s with 160-180 seats) fitted with Required Navigational Performance. The terminal building has undergone several expansions over the years to cater for sustained growth in domestic and international passengers to the region.
- Queenstown Airport welcomed its first international flight (Air New Zealand from Sydney) on 1 July 1995, bringing mainly skiers.
- Between 1995 and 1998 the runway was extended and overlaid to enable fully laden jet aircraft to operation directly into Queenstown from around New Zealand and Australia.
- A new control tower was constructed in 1996 and plans commenced for a new terminal building.
- In 2001 the overlay of the 1,911m runway was completed and a new $6 million terminal building opened to cater for the rapid growth, especially in international arrivals and departures. Planning continued in 2003 to treble the size of the terminal building.
- Qantas commenced services to Queenstown in July 2005.
- In 2007, a $33 million upgrade, costing saw the terminal building expanded and partly rebuild. The aircraft apron hard stand area was expanded to 10,000m, a new fire tender purchased and new station building constructed. The car park was expanded and border and security controls upgraded. Navigation systems were also upgraded to minimise flight disruption.
- Low-cost Qantas subsidiary Jetstar launched Queenstown services in June 2009, followed by Pacific Blue (now Virgin Australia) in September 2009.
- In 2010 the airport’s runway was resealed in a $5 million project, the jet blast fence was installed at the end of Runway 05 and the new Baggage Makeup Unit (BMU) opened.
- Auckland International Airport Limited (AIAL) acquired a 24.99% shareholding of the increased capital in Queenstown Airport on 8 July 2010 by subscribing to four million new shares at a price of $6.91 per share, for a total consideration of $27.7 million.
- In 2011, the new crosswind runway and the new onsite fuel farm opened. Construction was also completed on the $10 million Runway End Safety Area (RESA). About 850,000cu m in materials was brought in for the RESA – about 450,000cu m of that from Remarkables Park, with the remainder coming from the Shotover Delta and existing airport land.
- In 2012, Airways (Air Traffic Control) introduced Performance Based Navigation (PBN) and Required Navigation Performance-Authorisation Required (RNP AR) technology. This has dramatically improved the reliability of jet services and has increased airspace capacity and operational efficiency at the airport.
- In 2014, New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) approved the Airport’s evening flights safety case, allowing airlines to apply for individual certification to fly after-dark in and out of Queenstown.
- On 1 July 2015, the $17 million international terminal expansion opened, 20 years to the day after welcoming the first international flight from Sydney.
- Between 2015 and 2017, $20 million was spent upgrading the airfield as part of the infrastructure requirements to host after-dark flights. The improvements included widening, resurfacing and grooving the runway and installing a comprehensive lighting package.
- It was an historic moment for Queenstown Airport and a major milestone for New Zealand aviation and tourism when the first domestic after-dark flight (from Auckland), operated by Air New Zealand, and the first international after-dark flight (from Melbourne), operated by Jetstar, touched down on 23 May and 24 June 2016 respectively.
- Qantas and Virgin Australia followed suit in 2017, gaining regulatory certification for after-dark flights. Their services helped provide more flexibility and choice for locals and visitors travelling trans-Tasman during the ski season.