Flightseeing operator celebrates its 20th

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A Queenstown flight­­­­seeing operator’s proudest boast after 20 years is none of his passengers has even been scratched. 

Glenorchy Air’s Robert Ruth­erford and his wife Janet recently held a function to celebrate the milestone. 

Robert says business has always been tough but they can now survive whatever’s thrown at them: “We’re thoroughly established.” 

Noting that flightseeing operations have consolidated, he still welcomes competition as he says it keeps everyone on their toes. 

Fickle Milford weather is a bane for operators but Rutherford says his business has diversified by offering Lord of the Rings Trilogy Tours around lower South Island film locations. 

That should stay strong with Sir Peter Jackson’s new Hobbit series, he adds. 

Rutherford says he’s never supported Government moves to rein in Milford flightseeing: “Aviators have the least real environmental impact on our wilderness areas of anybody, fixed wing or helicopter. 

“We fly in a way that keeps our impact noise-wise on the environment to the minimum.” 

Rutherford takes a swipe at Remarkables Park developer Alastair Porter’s suggestion fixed-wing operators should relocate to Wanaka: “He should add up what the general aviation industry contributes in the sheer numbers of people and amount of money into this area – it’s huge, absolutely vast. To suggest that we can move away is a joke.” 

Ironically, Rutherford says he named his airline Glenorchy Air as they originally thought they’d relocate to the top-of-the-lake airfield. 

“It’s a bit strange but now, after all these years, people know us and Glenorchy has a cachet. Quite often we get there to drop people off and pick them up.” 

Rutherford, 65, whose great-grandfather came to the Wakatipu as a goldminer in 1862, says he’s quite happy to truck on. 

“I’m the most experienced fixed-wing pilot operating into Milford from Queenstown these days. 

“But I think that in three or four years we don’t really want to be in this business, we want someone else to take it over.”