Don’t shoot us down

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Adventure-aviation veterans fear costly new regulations could ground several Queenstown paragliding and hang gliding pilots. 

New Civil Aviation Authority rules to regulate airborne thrills take effect in November – but compliance costs could be an economic killer, the two veterans predict. 

Russell Read of Picton, longtime vice-president of the New Zealand Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association, warns: “There’s going to be a net loss of adventure paragliding services to tourists nationwide because of those [compliance] costs. 

“They’re pretty unreasonable and there will be quite a large attrition rate, I’d suspect, of operators closing down,” Read says. 

CAA estimates adventure-aviation operators will have to shell out $7600 each for up-front certification, followed by ongoing costs of $1000 a year. 

Read’s warning is echoed by 14-year veteran Queenstown paragliding pilot Dominic Eller. 

“[Compliance] will be a very expensive process,” Eller says. 

“I think it’ll put smaller operations out of business overnight,” he adds, and particularly in small centres. 

Most Queenstown commercial paragliding pilots are individual owner-operators. 

A tandem paraglide off Queenstown’s Bob’s Peak already costs $199 and Eller says whether compliance costs can be tacked on top “depends whether the market will support that”. 

Skydive and hot-air balloon operators are also caught by CAA’s new regulations. 

Lindsay Williams, boss of Glenorchy’s Skydive Paradise and Queenstown’s NZone, is resigned to shelling out compliance costs without seeing anything for his money. 

“It’s bureaucracy-driven,” Williams says. “[The CAA] has just bulldozed ahead. 

“We threw our hands up a couple of years ago and said, ‘just bring it in, who cares, do whatever you want’ – but will it make any difference? No.” 

However, Sunrise Balloons operator Hugh McLellan says the new law is “something that was bound to happen, just one of those things we’ve got to live with”. 

CAA spokesperson Bill Sommer says the new compliance costs being introduced are justified. 

Sommer says it has taken 15 years to put the new law in place because of fierce industry opposition: “People didn’t want it brought in.” 

CAA sports and recreation boss Rex Kenny says an effort has been made to publicise the upcoming costs so they’re not too much of a surprise. 

Well-prepared applications by operators should also take less time to process, reducing the cost, Kenny says. 

“We hope they’ll get a pleasant surprise and that the figures quoted are at the high end of the scale. These costs haven’t been there for this sector of aviation for many years and you could say they’ve had a pretty nice time of it,” Kenny adds. 

The new regulations are intended to bring commercial paragliding, hang gliding, ballooning, skydiving and gliding more into line with mainstream aviation. 

Depending on the activity, operators face a range of additional requirements including safety checklists, daily flight records, passenger weigh-ins to safeguard load limits, air speed indicators, back protection devices, protective clothing, flight examiner and instructor ratings, and medical checks for pilots. 

Eller says several new requirements are already in place in paragliding but he’s sceptical about he and fellow pilots requiring Class 2 medicals. 

Medicals are a good idea, he says, but “Class 2 is extremely expensive … it might be a little bit over the top” at $300-$500 a pop.