Air New Zealand flight NZ613 from Auckland touched down at 19:24 and passengers were officially welcomed into the terminal building with a rousing kapa haka performance and a taste of Queenstown with treats provided by local businesses Patagonia Chocolates, Cup and Cake, and The Remarkables Sweet Shop.
Outbound passengers on NZ616 were also entertained in the departure lounge before departing at 20:45.
Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) ccting chief executive, Mark Edghil, was there to witness the historic moment and said that it was ‘incredibly satisfying’ to see after-dark flights come to fruition.
“This is an exciting development for both the Queenstown region and for us as an airport,” he said.
“It’s a proud moment for all of the organisations involved who have worked together over the past four years with a shared vision and commitment to safety to make after-dark flights a reality.”
Airways New Zealand's chief controller, Clayton Lightfoot, who gave the pilot clearance to land at 19:20, said: “‘Cleared to land’ is an instruction I’ve issued thousands of times but after years of hard work to get us here, implementing new procedures and bringing in the latest technology, there was definitely something special about giving clearance for this landing and welcoming them in to Queenstown tonight.”
The introduction of evening flights during the winter months will maximise the airport’s current consented operating hours of 6am to 10pm and provide more traveller flexibility and connectivity across airline networks.
It will also reduce peak-time pressure on the airport’s facilities and services which have been experiencing sustained growth in passenger and traffic volumes.
After-dark flights for Queenstown were first mooted in 2002 and revisited several times over the following years after Required Navigational Performance (RNP) technology was introduced.
In 2012 QAC formed a working group of technical and operational experts with experience of RNP (Required Navigation Performance) and Queenstown-specific flight operations to prepare a Foundation Safety Case.
The working group included representatives from QAC, Airways NZ, Air New Zealand, Jetstar, and Qantas and was facilitated by risk management experts Navigatus Consulting.
The resulting Safety Case, approved by both New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority and Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority in 2014, required 67 infrastructure and operational enhancements.
QAC and Airways New Zealand completed the airport’s $19.65 million runway and lighting upgrade in April and the required regulatory inspections, approvals and test flights were