CAA night flights warning

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The safety risks of night flying into Queenstown are too high unless major investment is made, an official review concludes. 

The Civil Aviation Authority review – leaked to Mountain Scene – says the risks of potentially lucrative night flights into the resort “are not tolerable under the current situation”. 

“While it may be possible to reduce the risks to tolerable levels, this will likely involve considerable investment in infrastructure and may also involve conditions/limitations which are not commercially attractive,” the review adds. 

“Operators wishing to conduct night operations will need to demonstrate that these risks have been mitigated to tolerable levels before the CAA will accept these operations.” 

The above scenario applies only for aircraft using Required Naviation Performance (RNP) – GPS technology directing planes on pre-programmed tracks through the Wakatipu’s mountainous terrain in low or no visibility. CAA’s review effectively rules out night flying without this RNP technology, saying the risks are very high and it’d be extremely difficult to reduce them to an acceptable level. 

In its review, conducted in November, CAA outlines how an airline wishing to pursue night flights in Queenstown should approach the process. 

It includes applying to CAA with a statement from the airline’s chief executive personally identifying their assessment of the tolerability of the risk. 

“Should risk reduction to tolerable levels be achieved and night operations commence, the operator and CAA will monitor the operation closely and re-evaluate risks as necessary. As part of this, CAA may require increased reporting and also conduct additional surveillance,” the review says. 

The review also notes the terrain surrounding the airport can make it difficult for rescue fire services to reach some locations if there’s an accident. 

This difficulty is amplified at night, the review says. 

“Therefore, as a prerequisite for night operations, the operator risk assessment needs to consider the ability of emergency service providers to effectively respond.” 

CAA says it deemed the risk review necessary because of a large increase in air traffic at Queenstown Airport and the proposed introduction of night flights. A finalised review is expected to be made public once CAA gets feedback from airlines, the airport and Queenstown Lakes District Council. 

As reported in Mountain Scene two weeks ago, Queenstown Airport’s then-chief executive Steve Sanderson was upbeat about night flights after seeing a preview of the report. 

At the time, Sanderson said CAA didn’t see any insurmountable problems. 

Sanderson had hoped night flights might be possible this winter, easing terminal bottlenecks and making ski weekends to Queenstown more attractive for Australian visitors.