Airport ‘spins’ over flight school


Queenstown Airport’s being accused of PR gloss over the local aero club’s mountain flying course.

Last week, this newspaper’s Parting Shot column suggested Queenstown Airport grounded the Wakatipu Aero Club’s course - but we got it wrong.

The aero club’s commercial arm, Air Wakatipu, has shifted to Tex Smith Lane.

Acting airport boss Mark Edghill says the club’s commercial flightseeing and mountain flying course can operate until November 2019 - while its “usual” flying activities have until next July.

This came after “very productive discussions”.

Edghill says the company respects the club’s 45-year history in Queenstown.

“Unfortunately with the constant growth in passenger numbers and commercial flights we’ve had to think differently as to how we use our space in order to meet the demand.”

Aero club president Adrian Snow accuses the airport company of PR gloss - and says all flight training, private and commercial, is on hold. It’s had to lay off instructors and it’s unclear if a school is viable.

“If we’re only training maybe six pilots a year, in an ad hoc fashion, we can’t support a permanent flying school.”

He says the club was only offered a non-negotiable concession to temporarily continue flight training after the airport company received a letter from Civil Aviation Authority boss Graeme Harris in April.

Aviation NZ boss Samantha Sharif says most pilots, including those who go on to fly commercially, develop their fundamental skills at aero clubs.

That’s important when flying around mountains, she says.

Queenstown’s not alone in losing its aero club to commercial pressures, she says.

Many airports are owned by taxpayers and ratepayers, she says - “by the people”.

“It seems a little unfortunate that the community is being driven off being able to use those airfields.”

Queenstown Airport is 75.01 per cent-owned by the Queenstown Lakes District Council, with the balance owned by Auckland International Airport.