Queenstown Airport chief executive Colin Keel has resigned after five turbulent years.
During his time in the role the airport has lurched from massive growth issues to being completely shut down in the wake of Covid-19.
The news of resignation comes one day after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a travel bubble with Australia, and a massive surge of trans-Tasman flights and bookings announced for the airport.
Queenstown Airport Corporation board chairwoman Adrienne Young-Cooper said Keel planned to relocate to Auckland to pursue other opportunities, but would continue until the end of the current financial year.
READ MORE:* Loss of trans-Tasman flights hurts Queenstown Airport’s bottom line * Queenstown Airport boss ‘competely absent’ during Covid-19 restructuring* Queenstown Airport expects business to drop by half, cuts jobs
Increasing tourism numbers in Central Otago have to lead to debate around air travel in the region. (Video first published in October 2018)
Keel had shown agility and courage and made a significant contribution to the business and its shareholders, Young-Cooper said.
He has been unfailing in his commitment to the success of QAC, and the broader airport community as well as the place of Queenstown and Wnaka airports in the region, she said.
According to airport documents, Keel was paid a salary of between $570,000 and $580,000 in the financial year ending June 2020, making him the highest paid chief executive of a public company in the region.
He took at 20 per cent pay cut in the post-Covid period.
It was a huge jump from the $360,000 to $370,000 he earned in the year ended June 2017.
Keel has faced enormous pressure over that period, beginning with the announcement in 2018 of plans to dramatically increase the number of flights into Queenstown and Wnaka.
About one-third of staff were made redundant from Queenstown Airport Corporation in a Covid-19-related restructure.
A massive public backlash followed, which is still having almost monthly reverberations through the Queenstown Lakes District Council chambers.
The airport corporation is 75.01 per cent owned by the council, with the remainder owned by Auckland Airport.
In Wnaka, a stakeholders group filed a judicial review in the High Court to prevent Queenstown Airport Corporation taking over the site.
According to recent airport documents, the action has so far cost the corporation $450,000.
A decision has not yet been released.
Richie Pearce and son Marley look out their front window towards where the proposed Tarras airport would be.
In the meantime, Christchurch Airport revealed controversial plans to build a new international airport in nearby Tarras.
Keel came under criticism from some after instituting an organisational restructure following the impacts of Covid-19, cutting about 22 of its 68 permanent staff.
A six-monthly report showed the net profit to December plunged 80 per cent to $2.2 million, compared to $10.8m in the previous year.
Passenger arrivals and departures fell 46 per cent and there were no international passenger or aircraft movements.
Keels partner former Qantas customer operations executive manager Ian Jackson has also recently resigned from a short-term role in Queenstown, as chief executive of the Wayfare Group, which owns and operates the Real Journeys, Go Orange, International Antarctic Centre, and Cardrona and Treble Cone brands.
Jackson also led his company through a period of significant redundancies and copped criticism from some former staff.
Keel said it had been a privilege leading the business over such a period of change.
The QAC team and all those who work at the airports are hard-working, dedicated members of the community and committed to its wellbeing.
Despite the current challenges, the future is full of tremendous opportunities for the business, airports and region.
The board of directors will now begin a formal search process to select Keels successor.