Grant Bradley

Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Private jet visits to NZ booming

Mini terminal to be built at Queenstown to cater for corporate aircraft passengers.

Auckland's Air Center One and Wellington firm Capital Jet Services are expanding into the Southern resort town as they look forward to a busy summer.
Auckland's Air Center One and Wellington firm Capital Jet Services are expanding into the Southern resort town as they look forward to a busy summer.

Growing numbers of private jets are coming to New Zealand, prompting corporate aircraft handlers to build a new terminal in Queenstown.

Auckland's Air Center One and Wellington firm Capital Jet Services are expanding into the Southern resort town as they look forward to a busy summer.

"We're going into our busy period here. We've got lots of good bookings here and some of them will only give us a week's notice," said Air Center One chief executive Rob Leach.

In the last 12-month period there were 970 private plane movements with those from overseas typically doing business and then flying to Queenstown for a holiday.

The two handling companies have signed an agreement with Queenstown Airport to lease land and build a mini terminal next to the main terminal building to develop a fixed base operation for corporate jet passengers.

The terminal is expected to be operational by March 2014.

Leach said his Auckland facility offers immigration and customs services, meaning corporate passengers don't have to go through the public terminal.

"We're trying to bring an international standard to airports around New Zealand," he said.

The market had recovered since the global financial crisis five years ago although many of the super wealthy who own $50 million to $60 million jets were barely affected.

"The people who own a Global Express or Gulfstream 550 may see their fortune is now $6 billion and it hasn't made much of a dent in their lifestyle. The top end of the market is going strong."

The Chinese market was growing and Russians were starting to come back.

"They're starting to discover New Zealand again. They're certainly the last of the big spenders. You'll see a lot of them when the snow hits the ground in the Northern Hemisphere," he said

"These people will go to Queenstown and the money they spend down there probably equals a plane load of Jetstar backpackers."

Air Center One's New Zealand clients include Graeme Hart and Peter Jackson.

Leach pioneered the business in the mid-1980s when the sharemarket boom fuelled exponential growth in the number of private jets owned by New Zealanders.

They all but disappeared after the October 1987 crash.

"It was like the last days of Rome for a while. At one stage we had 13 jets on the ramp and I thought where are we going to go from here but a couple of months later there were six, then there were two and then there were none. We went for a few lean years for a while."

By the late 1990s there was some recovery, although only about 44 aircraft movements a year.

Leach said the luxury tourism market offered huge returns but he had not got any support from government agencies such as Tourism New Zealand for promotion work he did overseas to bring in more private jets.

"We fund it all ourselves but that's the way it is. I notice a lot of people like the film industry wanting special tax breaks but we take it on the lips and go out and do it. We don't complain about it," he said.

- NZ Herald

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