Nelson Airport experiences record growth after busiest year ever

Nelson Airport CEO Rob Evans wants to see a million passengers pass through the city's terminal next year. Nelson Airport has experienced its busiest year ever with further growth predicted.

A record 865,023 passengers flew in and out of the terminal in the year to June, up 16 per cent from the 750,000 passengers last year.

Airport chief executive Rob Evans said the growth was"extraordinary".

"Once you start talking in millions it is pretty significant numbers. Our personal target for next year is a million passengers."

The growth was also remarkable as it had all occurred in the six months from December when Jetstar started flying out of Nelson.

Evans said the increase was not solely due to Jetstar and other start-up airlines including Kiwi Regional Airlines (KRA) had also played a role.

KRA was probably contributed 25,000 passengers a year and was starting to make an impact, before folding last month, he said.

Jetstar's arrival had led to competition between it and Air New Zealand. The Nelson to Auckland route had grown by 25 per cent alone and the Wellington to Nelson route by 15 per cent.

"What we've been really pleased to see is that both airlines have been really successful through a very buoyant summer and shoulder season.

"It's demonstrated the opportunities for Nelson through the likes of Auckland and Wellington where the growth has been extraordinary."

There are now 480 flights in and out of Nelson a week.

The expansion in passenger numbers had also corresponded with an overall growth in domestic and international tourism.

Evans acknowledged the unprecedented growth in the last six months had put strain on airport infrastructure including the carpark.

Some interim changes to carparking were planned.

The airport would also be installing an extra exit barrier to help reduce congestion from people trying to get out of the carpark.

It would also be laying gravel on 200 overflow spaces on the grass to improve that area.

Long term improvements would be part of an "exciting" new terminal redevelopment he hoped to publicly announce in the next month or so.

Overall Evans said his small team had coped well to deal with the unplanned growth.

"Our business plan did not contain 30 per cent growth, so we've reacted really well. We've done really well and we have these exciting new infrastructure plans for the future."

He believed the growth at the airport was sustainable.

"It will always continue to grow because it is a popular destination with a high proportion of people who like to travel with a good tourism product with lots of opportunity to grow."

Owner of the Nelson branch of New Zealand Rentacar Terry Simpson said that his business turnover had increased by a third since the introduction of Jetstar, Kiwi Regional Airlines and Originair last year.

"We're seeing a lot more Kiwis coming to Nelson, especially at this time of year, from Auckland and Wellington - it seems to be rubbing off on the other restaurants and retailers in town too.

"To be fair Air New Zealand has been holding us to ransom for some time now," he said.

"There is definitely that (seasonal) difference but it's becoming busier on the whole and I have to put that down to Jetstar because they're bringing people here that wouldn't normally come to Nelson."

Uniquely Nelson manager Simon Duffy said the increase in airline passengers had been good for retailers and hospitality businesses in the CBD.

Tourism figures show the tourism spend for Nelson for the year to May was $295 million, up 9 per cent for the previous year.

In the Tasman region the tourism spend for the year to May was $263 million up 5 per cent.

 - Stuff