Queenstown aircraft engineers get chop

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One of six aircraft engineers being laid off by a Queenstown flightseeing firm says the company is now a laughing stock. 

Milford Sound Flights is closing its 60-year-old engineering base at Queens­town Airport next month and the engineers will all be made redundant. 

The company – co-owned by local tourism giants Real Journeys and Skyline Enterprises-owned Totally Tourism – will instead contract its maintenance work to Dunedin’s Flightline Aviation. 

The engineers laid off include three who’ve worked for the company and its predecessors for 30 years or more – like Milford Sound Flights chief engineer Brad Lynton, 66. 

Lynton started at the base as an apprentice in 1963 and has worked there ever since apart from a 10-year break. 

Among his colleagues, Bob Grubb has worked there for more than 30 years and Ross Bradley for 29 years. 

Grubb’s son Matthew has done 11 years and Brett Glass and Jamie Davidson, 10 and seven years, respectively. 

Skyline Enterprises chief executive Jeff Staniland says the move is partly caused by a drop-off in Milford flightseeing business but is mainly aimed at reducing a fixed cost. 

“You look at most businesses, you contract everything out, don’t you, if you can. 

“You get a specialist provider to provide your services rather than having a big fixed cost infrastructure.” 

Staniland admits the decision mightn’t have been taken if business had been buoyant. 

“But I think, logically, you would have got there eventually.” 

Most airlines don’t maintain their own fleets, Staniland adds. 

However, Lynton says he and his colleagues don’t think the decision makes any sense. 

“The company’s the laughing stock of the aviation industry throughout New Zealand, now, for doing what they’ve done,” Lynton says. 

Lynton questions the cost savings Staniland talks about. 

“The reason, if any, that our engineering costs are perceived to be high is the fact that some of the aircraft are over 40 years old, so they get dearer to look after.” 

Lynton says there’ll also be extra cost in flying planes to Dunedin and back for servicing. 

Defects that ground planes in Queenstown – “which can be little things, simply a gauge that goes a bit funny” – will probably require someone to drive from Dunedin, he suggests. 

Lynton adds that even in winter he and his colleagues were still busy – that’s when they did the major plane 
inspections. 

Long-time local aviator Jules Tapper is sad about the loss of the base. 

“I’m sorry to see it gone because I don’t think it’s been thought right through. 

“A little thing might come up with the machine, it just needs something done, who’s going to do it? Maybe they can get an engineer from one of the helicopter companies but their specialty is helicopters.” 

Tapper says the base also serviced private flyers like himself. 

Local Air Milford owner Hank Sproull – who’s also used the base – says he worked there for 27 years before setting up his airline. 

“It’s just like cutting an arm off, really. They’ve got all the tooling, technology and equipment here to maintain all the aeroplanes, and all the expertise. 

“When you’re flying in the terrain we fly in, the first thing you have to have is well-maintained aeroplanes.”