Classification change for Queenstown airport

Queenstown Airport is outgrowing an airspace classification meant for quieter airports and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is proposing a change to ensure safety.

The CAA has decided the airspace classification for the airport should change from class D to C.

The change will mean more air traffic control management and less self-management by pilots within the airspace - putting it into the same league as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

A CAA spokesman said the change in classification would mean passenger aircraft which were able to fly in cloud were separated from all other aircraft by air traffic control.

''At present, these aircraft are only given traffic information about flights which are operating under visual flight rules [and must keep clear of cloud] and the pilots are responsible [for] ensuring that they do not get too close,'' the spokesman said.

Queenstown Airport chief executive Scott Paterson said under classification D there was more self-management by pilots and classification C would mean a move to more air traffic control management.

In class C airspace air traffic control separated instrument flight rules (IFR) aircraft from all other aircraft.

The consultation document released by the CAA notes that passenger numbers have trebled in the past 20 years and there had also been a major shift in the type of aircraft used, from turboprop to turbojet.

It also states that the increase in traffic at Queenstown required ''action to ensure aviation safety'' and there had been a ''fivefold increase, in recent times, of airspace safety occurrences''.

The consultation was initiated this month and discussions with Queenstown users and Airways are planned for next month.

A final decision on the airspace classification is expected in April.