Queenstown is the thrill seeker capital of New Zealand – and the thrills start before you’ve even landed.
The runway at Queenstown airport sits on the edge of a lake in a small valley, squeezed in between mountains reaching more than 5000 feet high.
Depending on the route, passengers can take in the sights of the ski city’s mountainous skyline for up to 10 minutes as their flight coasts through the ranges surrounding Queenstown.
That kind of terrain means it’s not your typical landing approach. But it’s all in a day’s flying for Captain Justin Roberts.
He’s one of a select group of pilots who are licenced to land a passenger jet at Queenstown (or to use its airport code, ZQN).
The terrain surrounding the airport creates its own unique weather patterns which may be great for skiers, but poses some challenges for large passenger aircraft.
Not only do pilots landing in Queenstown need to undergo specialised simulator training, but they must execute a successful approach and landing under the watchful eye of a training captain.
To help guide them through the winding valley, pilots also use a system called RNP (Required Navigation Performance) when flying to and from Queenstown Airport.
Think of RNP like GPS but instead of a simple line on a map, it’s a 3D tube that winds a safe path through the mountains. It uses satellite data to maintain a set track during the approach, monitoring the aircraft’s movement laterally and vertically.
And key altitude and speed information is projected onto Heads Up Display in front of the Captain.
Captain Roberts, will never forget his first Queenstown approach. “While my landing was a little firmer than some customers would have liked, I remember standing at the top of the stairs saying goodbye to passengers while looking at The Remarkables towering 6000 feet above me.”
If you’re keen to see the mountains and ski them, Qantas’ seasonal services from Melbourne to Queenstown start 21 June until 27 August, in addition to our year round services from Sydney. Book at qantas.com
Read more Roo Tales here.