05 September 2011

Manapouri Whisper

A multimillion-dollar investment in the new Fiordland airport is starting to pay off, with the first Whisper jet scheduled to taxi down the runway this week. Te Anau-Manapouri Airport manager Evan Pearce said yesterday a 118-passenger aircraft, the only one of its kind in New Zealand, was "99.9 per cent certain" to land at the airport on Wednesday. The plane, being brought into the area by tourist operator Tauck Tours, was the first of its kind scheduled to land at the airport since the $7.1 million-dollar upgrade in 2008. The upgrade had been developed specifically to attract larger aircraft such as the Whisper jet to the area, Mr Pearce said. "We've been working on this thing for the past 18 or so months, so this is very significant for Te Anau and Fiordland." The Southland District Council-owned airport hoped to eventually attract up to 52 landings from similar-sized aircraft each year, and next week's arrival was just the beginning, he said. "What this really means is it paves the way for further jet transport or further larger aircraft movements into Fiordland ... people's ears prick up and they say, `well, maybe we can do it, too'." Since the upgrade, the airport had also confirmed overnight excursions with tourist operators, which were expected to begin in January. That meant there was even greater potential for those in the tourism industry in Fiordland to capitalise on visitors to the area, Mr Pearce said. Destination Fiordland manager Lisa Sadler said the arrival of the Whisper jet this week was likely to be the beginning of a greater number of large aircraft opting to land in the area, rather than heading to other parts of the country, such as Queenstown. Although it was difficult to say how much money could be garnered from tourists flying into the area in the future, the arrival of a greater number of larger aircraft would eventually have a payback for the community, she said. It was expected that visitors on overnight trips would spend more money on accommodation, at restaurants, going on extra excursions and in retail outlets. "It's like people say – it's not going to happen overnight, but it will happen." The airport upgrade was a contentious issue for the council, with debate surrounding the development since its beginning.

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