Flightseers’ wings clipped

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Due to a shocking aircraft accident in Sweden, 10 Queenstown flightseeing planes have been grounded.

The GA8 Airvans – four operated by Glenorchy Air, three by Milford Sound Flights and three by True South Flights – are the same type as the plane involved in a skydiving operation which crashed last week, killing all nine onboard.

New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority grounded the country’s 21 Airvans as a precautionary measure, for at least 10 working days, till more’s found out about the cause of the accident.

New Glenorchy Air owner James Stokes is the local operator most affected as he’s lost about 90 per cent of his capacity – his only remaining plane is a three-passenger Cessna 172.

He says the week after the school holidays is traditionally pretty quiet, so he’s coping, but he’ll use other operators if he needs to.

He’s looking at options to lease other craft, “but obviously we’re not the only ones looking”.

Stokes says he was shocked about what’s happened – “we actually don’t have any doubt about the safety of the aeroplane, but public safety’s number one”.

He notes the Airvan, which was first certified in 2000, hadn’t had one fatality and was “statistically the safest general aviation aircraft in the world”.

Milford Sound Flights boss Mark Quickfall says while their three Airvans are grounded, “we’re very fortunate to also operate four Cessna Caravans, so that’s enabled us, because of the time of year, to continue operations as per normal, but we wouldn’t want to be without the Airvans forever, that’s for sure”.

True South Flights co-owner Peter Daniell, who also has three Airvans, says he’s got three other aircraft, and a 14-seat Cessna Caravan’s about to be added.

“We had some of [the other planes] out on planned maintenance programmes, but we’ve had to change that plan around.”

He says the grounding’s “not hugely affected us at this point, but we don’t want it to go on and on.”

Daniell says three local operators wouldn’t have invested in the Airvan “if we didn’t think they were a good product”.

“They’re a fantastic flight-seeing plane.

“We’ve had no cause to be concerned about its integrity up to this point, and we still believe it’s probably an outside force that’s created [the accident].”

scoop@scene.co.nz