A pilot-training organisation banished from Queenstown Airport is set to fly again – in Kingston.
The long-established Wakatipu Aero Club has been fighting for its survival since Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) unexpectedly cancelled its lease in 2015 on the grounds it needs the space.
Yesterday, however, QAC signed a contribution deed with the club. That’s given it the financial clout to start operating again, this time from a 1000-metre-long grass airstrip, 2.2km south of Kingston.
QAC originally offered financial assistance in 2015, but the package wasn’t feasible for the club.
As a result, it had to let its two flying instructors go, return six leased aircraft to their owners and lose its 45-year-old club rooms.
“We were probably knocked back about two decades,” president Adrian Snow says.
“I think it’s been a loss to Queenstown at perhaps the airport’s busiest period of demand for pilots.
“It’s had to draw on pilots from around the country and around the world and not Queenstown itself.”
The aero club was also highly-regarded nationally for its specialist mountain flying training.
Snow says his members determined the club should remain in the Wakatipu Basin – “that’s what they founded it for”.
He was delighted when Kingston Station owner Tim Taylor offered the use of his newly-formed, newly-consented grass airstrip.
“It’s just outside [Queenstown’s] air traffic control zone which makes it easier for us to get into our training, and less expensive.”
Taylor’s also keen to build a hangar which the aero club would lease.
Snow says the club’s so far contracted one instructor – its former chief flying instructor Kerry Conner – and has two planes available for lease.
“I’d like to see Queenstown kids choosing aviation as a career, training here and going on to have their careers here.”
He pays special tribute to QAC boss Colin Keel for his cooperation.
“He removed restrictions that were previously put on its offer of assistance.”
Keel says: “It’s been a real privilege to work with Adrian and the team to see how we could bring this to life.
“We looked at various options.”
That didn’t include Queenstown Airport, with airspace getting busier.
Keel: “The great thing is that both ourselves and the aero club cast the net out and we thought about what was possible for them and what was great for their membership.
“At the end of the day, we really respect and value that proud aviation heritage, the passion for flying and the contribution to the region that the aero club has offered.
“And that’s very much what this is about – it’s providing a potential pathway for young flyers who may then go and be commercial pilots.”