Safety regime hold-ups row

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The Civil Aviation Authority is wrangling with Queenstown adventure flying companies, claiming deliberate delays to meet its new safety regime. 

But the Tourism Industry Association has waded in on behalf of Queenstown skydive firm NZONE which was still awaiting final sign-off yesterday (Wednesday) before it finally came through in the afternoon. 

CAA spokeswoman Emma Peel claims most of the paragliding, hang-gliding, hot air ballooning and skydiving firms operating in the Wakatipu failed to apply for a new certificate till just before the May 1 deadline. 

As a result, a “major glut” of last-minute applications caused several operators to be grounded on Tuesday and Wednesday, as CAA officials worked furiously to make companies’ operations manuals legal. 

CAA announced the new regulation changes – the aviation equivalent to the Department of Labour’s new standards for the adventure tourism industry – last November, but the topic has been mooted for the past 20 years, Peel says. 

“For a long time it’s been opposed by certain parts of the industry,” she says. 

“There has almost been a feeling that if they didn’t certificate then that would somehow cause [the law change] to go away. 

“There’s been a lot of energy put in by some elements of the industry into slowing down this chain as if they might be able to stop it. But no, it’s absolutely going through. If that amount of energy had been put into certificating they probably would all be through by now.” 

Since November 2011, CAA ran national roadshows, sent out reminder letters to operators in February, provided advice and outlined rules needing to be met. 

“We’ve been fully-prepared, we’ve been sitting there waiting and the manuals have not been coming in. They’ve all come in in a major glut right at the end which is, to be honest, predictable.” 

Local certified firms include G Force Paragliding, Coronet Peak Tandems and SkyTrek, which were approved on Tuesday. Skydive Paradise and NZONE Skydive were expected to be authorised late yesterday and got sign-off in the afternoon. 

NZONE’s business development manager Derek Melnick (above) says his company began taking steps for certification soon after the CAA announcement but working through the process during peak season was difficult. 

“We weren’t dismissive of the process. We followed the process. It’s disappointing to us that we’ve been grounded,” Melnick says. 

NZONE complained to the Tourism Industry Association at Tuesday night’s strategic update from Tourism New Zealand. 

Melnick says TIA boss Geoff Ensor called CAA senior management that night to further highlight concerns NZONE raised in having certification delayed and impacts on its operation. 

At 10.23pm, CAA director Graeme Harris emailed NZONE to apologise for the hold-up and to say there’d been a slip-up in the processing on CAA’s side and they’re working to resolve that, Melnick adds. 

Peel says that delay related to a manual update sent by NZONE on April 24 “that was overlooked in huge volumes of email traffic and not also sent in hard copy”. 

“Information given at the end of April for a May 1 deadline. How about November, December, January, February, March?”