Night operations at Queenstown Airport have commenced with the arrival of Air New Zealand flight NZ613 from Auckland.
The flight, operated by Airbus A320 ZK-OXI, touched down a little after 1920 local time on Monday, after a one hour and 46 minute journey from Auckland.
The aircraft was on the ground for about 90 minutes before operating NZ616 to Auckland.
Evening flights at Queenstown Airport have been in the works for a number of years, as the rising popularity of the city has placed the airport under some pressure at peak periods, particularly during the winter months.
In May 2014, New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) granted provisional approval for Queenstown Airport to extend its operating hours into night flight operations, subject to subject to the airport meeting a number of conditions such as runway improvements and the installation of a comprehensive aeronautical lighting package.
Other requirements from the NZ CAA and Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) also included a customised crew selection and training package; employing the full capability of the existing Required Navigation Performance (RNP) technology; and changes to on-board flight procedures to reduce pilot workload on final approach.
The airport has also expanded its terminal facilities to cater for the increased demand.
Among those on board the inaugural flight were Air New Zealand chief flight operations and safety officer Captain David Morgan, as well as Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Vanessa Van Uden.
The pair, as well as the rest of the passengers, received a ceremonial “kapa haka” welcome in the terminal.
Captain Morgan said NZ613 was the “culmination of four years of hard work and collaboration with a number of industry stakeholders”.
“We are immensely proud to have operated the first after-dark service to Queenstown,” Captain Morgan said.
“We now look forward to bedding in the new services ahead of the upcoming winter season.”
Air New Zealand’s full Queenstown schedule kicks in on July 3, with the airline’s capacity into the popular South Island destination to increase by 15 per cent, representing 100,000 more seats, in 2016/17.
“It’s exciting for us to launch these new flights now, ahead of the upcoming winter ski season. For the first time, our customers will be able to make the most of an entire winter weekend away in Queenstown – flying in on a Friday evening and spending the whole weekend before flying out on a Sunday evening,” Air New Zealand chief sales and commercial officer Cam Wallace said.
“In turn it obviously provides more flexibility for Queenstown locals whether they’re wanting to get away for work or leisure.”
Queenstown Airport acting chief executive Mark Edghill said it was proud moment for everyone at the airport.
Jetstar is also planning evening flights at Queenstown, with a night-time service from Melbourne due to start on June 24.
Queenstown Airport has published a video of a simulated night time landing: