Queenstown’s highly-regarded aero club, which has trained generations of local pilots, faces being grounded.
Wakatipu Aero Club, founded 45 years ago, is fighting for survival because the airport’s owner won’t renew its lease when it expires in June.
Queenstown Airport Corporation says it’s running out of room and needs the club’s Lucas Place site for further
expansion – possibly carparking.
QAC boss Scott Paterson is encouraging the club to shift its flight training school to Wanaka – yep, Wanaka.
He’s also promising to help relocate its commercial arm, Air Wakatipu, elsewhere on the airfield – but “we can’t guarantee it ‘cos we’re out of space”.
Club president Adrian Snow says: “It isn’t viable financially or practical to operate from Wanaka.”
It’s a “crying shame” the QAC’s not renewing its lease – “it’s pointless, it’s not necessarily good logic”.
Snow’s grateful for the QAC subsidising its rent, which is less than $5000 a year.
But he doesn’t believe it appreciates the club’s role in supporting Queenstown’s small-plane aviation industry and in particular the popular Milford flightseeing sector.
Snow says it has one of the country’s top flying schools and its mountain flying course isn’t offered elsewhere.
“Our pilots that graduate from here fill most of the commercial fixed-wing positions that fly between Queenstown and Milford and associated charters around the region.”
Pilots aren’t allowed to fly to Milford till they’ve completed an extra 50 hours’ training with the club.
“QAC is attempting to alter the safety equation of local aircraft operations.”
Paterson says mountain training’s undertaken elsewhere in the country.
The Civil Aviation Authority is working with the club to develop NZ’s first fixed-wing mountain flying course – “very ironical” given the club’s possible demise, Snow concedes.
Snows says he believes the airport’s majority shareholder Queenstown Lakes District Council realises the value of the club.
“Queenstown has to be very careful that we do maintain our community assets, our sense of community – we’re in danger of becoming somewhat sterile and controlled by larger business forces.
“We’re still lobbying hard – we’d love support from the public.”
Snow says local aircraft operators are also lobbying on its behalf.