Safety concerns aired over Queenstown runway closure

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The Wakatipu Aero Club is expressing safety fears over the possible closure of Queenstown Airport’s north-south grass runway. 

Chief flying instructor Julianne Kramer believes there would be serious safety concerns, especially for trainee pilots. 

There would be more crosswind landings on the main runway and strong southerlies would occasionally make it impossible for light aircraft to take off or land, the club states. 

The club says closure of the runway, known as 14/32, would cause significant delays to small-plane operators as their craft would have to queue behind airliners to use the main runway. 

The grass runway is currently closed for sealing. 

Kramer believes a recent accident at Branches Station, near Skippers, was partly caused by the temporary lack of a north-south runway at Queenstown because pilots needed to train on a runway that was into the wind. 

Kramer also states that the recent fatal accident on the Arrowtown golf course probably can’t be blamed on the crosswind runway closure. 

However, she says the shortage of suitable parking and hang space at the airport may have contributed to the pilot’s decision to land on a private strip. 

The club claims the push to close the runway comes from the owners of Remarkables Park wanting to expand their shopping centre on the southern side of the airport. 

However, that’s rebutted by Remarkables Park director Alastair Porter. 

“The push has come because the airport, with the support of the pilots, wants to expand their facilities like hangars on Remarkables Park land. 

“The Remarkables Park experts, who we have hired to have a look at that, came back with a number of suggestions as to how the airport could be orientated and I believe that one of their suggestions was to look at the crosswind runway.”

Queenstown Airport Corporation chief executive Steve Sanderson says QAC has no intention of closing the crosswind runway.