ImPORTant Growth

We have more ships and planes coming into the region than ever before. Port Nelson chief executive Martin Byrne and Nelson Airport chief executive Rob Evans discuss where the growth is coming from and what it entails.

Nelson Airport and Port Nelson both have $32 million redevelopment plans underway.

The airport redevelopment follows a period of rapid growth in which passenger numbers have increased by nearly a third over the last three years. Christmas proved to be another record-breaking month with 93,557 passengers flying in and out of the region – 17% up on last year.

March is traditionally their busiest month of the year so you can expect to see that latest record broken once again in the weeks ahead. Rob Evans says the airport has been on its current trajectory for the past 13-14 months.

Last year saw the introduction of three new airline services into Nelson with strong competition now between Air New Zealand and Jetstar. Rob believes passenger numbers will continue to grow.

“With the region’s growth and desirable offerings, great seasonality and the affordable access, there’s no reason why visitor numbers would decline. We work closely with our partners to look for continued growth opportunities, be it scheduling or route development.”

The launch of a new regional identity later this year is likely to further strengthen the region’s reputation as a fantastic place to work and visit, Rob says.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how much air passengers contribute to the local economy, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment statistics show the estimated annual tourism spend for Nelson increased 15 per cent in the year to December to $340 million.

Work on the new airport terminal building is due to commence in April. The redevelopment is expected to take 24 months to complete and is designed to cater for growth up to 2035 when 1.4 million passengers a year are forecast to pass through the airport.

Port Nelson and Nelson Airport are both council controlled organisations, with their ownership being split evenly between Nelson City and Tasman District Councils. Last year Nelson Airport made a $1.2m profit and returned a $600k dividend to its shareholders while Port Nelson made a $5.3m profit and returned a $4.8 million dividend to its shareholders.

Port Nelson chief executive Martin Byrne has been pleasantly surprised by the increase in cargo passing through the port. “We thought container numbers had plateaued but the last three years has seen growth across a number of areas including processed forestry, fruit and wine which are all driving increased volumes.”

There were 821 ship visits last year – an increase of 12 per cent over three years – and annual container throughput has reached an all-time high of 96,497.

“The wine industry is certainly driving a lot of the current growth with increased volumes of empty bottles coming through the port and increased export volumes, both of finished bottled product and of bulk wine.” The recently opened 13,000sq m Quay Connect warehouse to store bottles and wine is part of the Port’s redevelopment, along with two other new buildings and the purchase of a new tug boat. Martin says one of the Port’s key roles is facilitating regional growth.

“We are a significant employer – around 260 staff currently in terms of both casuals and permanents here and in Marlborough. We deliver strong dividend streams to our two shareholders NCC and TDC and we are also a strong supporter of a variety of organisations and events locally. A few examples of that would be Big Brothers Big Sisters, St Johns and Light Nelson.”