Floatplane operator eyes Queenstown

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An Australian floatplane operator whose company suffered a fatal crash last New Year’s Eve is eyeing up Queenstown.

Kiwi-born Sydney Seaplanes owner Aaron Shaw, who formerly owned a Queenstown holiday home, is amazed the resort doesn’t have any floatplanes.

With their ability to access remote areas quickly and comfortably, “it offers up a huge opportunity for a great tourism product that really should be there in Queenstown”, he says.

Sydney Seaplanes hit the headlines at New Year when a company DHC-2 Beaver plunged into a river north of Sydney, killing the pilot and his five British passengers including a top CEO and his fiancee.

The plane had veered wildly off-course.

Shaw says investigations are continuing but no fault was found with the plane.

“It’s looking more and more likely there might have been some incident with the pilot, like a medical issue.

“I think we did everything we could have done, and we always have, to try and avoid that type of situation, but anyone that operates things that move, it could be a bus, a truck, a car, there is always an element of risk.

“We’ve just been issued a new air operator’s certificate for another five years by [Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority], so we have been exonerated as an organisation and a business.”

Apart from his Sydney Harbour business, his company has helped set up about 15 other operations around the world.

“We really are experts at that.”

Shaw, who last month registered Queenstown Seaplanes Ltd, says he’ll start planning to operate here soon.

He’s undaunted another company, Queenstown Floatplane Services Ltd, recently applied for resource consent.

“There’s lots of places where there’s more than one operator.”

That other company is applying to operate at least a kilometre off the likes of Sunshine Bay and Bob’s Cove, after another operator ran into opposition, for noise reasons, when he tried to set up in Queenstown Bay nine years ago.

Shaw, however, says he wants to use the bay because it’s handy for visitors. “I’ve owned [Sydney Seaplanes] for 12 years and we’ve done 70,000 flights and in summer 50 to 60 a day, and I’ve never had a complaint about the noise.”

That’s despite operating in Rose Bay, “in the heart of probably the wealthiest [residential] area of the southern hemisphere”. He would, however, run a Cessna Caravan because it’s “quieter”.