Queenstown Airport has received approval from the aviation authorities for after-dark flights into the airport, which will allow holidaymakers to fly year-round into Queenstown, New Zealand until 10pm.
The airport had already received approval for flights until 10pm; however, this meant evening flights could only occur in New Zealand’s summer, as flights are currently limited to daylight hours.
The after-dark flights were approved primarily due to an advanced navigation technology, which is now in place in the airport.
Airways New Zealand introduced required navigation performance authorisation required (RNP AR) flight procedures in 2012, allowing jet aircraft to fly very precise paths in a range of weather conditions, subsequently improving airspace capacity and operational efficiency.
Commenting on the approval, Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) chief executive Scott Paterson said: "The decision by the authorities on both sides of the Tasman to approve the foundation safety case for after-dark flights is a potential game changer for Queenstown’s tourism industry and the regional economy.
"Realistically, evening flights wouldn’t be introduced before winter 2016, but we now have a very clear roadmap of the technology, infrastructure and operational steps required to enable it to happen.
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"Extending the airport’s operating window would give travellers more flexibility, provide better connectivity across airline networks and improve their airport experience, peak times would be more spread out, with less pressure on facilities and services."
In order to receive approval for night-time flights, technical experts from Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Qantas, Airways and QAC, facilitated by risk management experts Navigatus Consulting, began working together in June 2012.
They evaluated the safety requirements to meet and exceed all the safety thresholds for evening operations in the Queenstown airspace environment, taking advantage of new technologies such as RNP AR.
The working group identified that the additional infrastructure and onboard technology required to land and take off in darkness would also enhance the safety of operations during the day.
The key elements required to be in place at Queenstown Airport before the introduction of after-night flights include widening the runway from the current 30m to 45m, a comprehensive aeronautical lighting package and a customised crew selection and training package.
Additional elements consist of changes to on-board flight procedures to reduce pilot workload on the final approach, in addition to making full use of the existing RNP AR technology, individual airline applications and approvals.
The evening flights facility is expected to allow Queenstown Airport to evenly distribute the peak load, as it has reported a 30% increase in passenger numbers over the past three years.
According to research by New Zealand Airports Association in 2013, the annual economic benefits associated with Queenstown Airport are almost $275m and this is now expected to grow.