Ensuring the continued safety of all passengers and air
operators in and around Queenstown is behind the Civil Aviation
Authority's (CAA) formal review of the resort's airspace
classification, which the authority proposes to change to class
Queenstown Airport Corporation operations general manager
Mark Harrington said the airspace was designated class D,
where aircraft have to visually avoid each other because they
cannot be seen on radar.
The change would mean more air traffic control management and
less self-management by pilots, putting it in the same league
as Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington.
The CAA initiated the formal review, and consultation began
Following a meeting in March, a document was circulated, with
21 submissions received.
The submission summary document said CAA recognised the
''symbiotic relationship'' between airline and scenic flight
operators and adventure aviation industries. A significant
number of passengers arriving in the resort on scheduled
services were likely to experience one or more
aviation-related activities while visiting Queenstown.
''However, the responsibility for the safety of all
passengers, airline and other, flying at or around Queenstown
is the prime consideration for the CAA.''
In November, 2011 the CAA Airline Flight Operations Unit
undertook a risk review of air transport operations because
of the large increase in air transport operations.
It found the risk of a ''traffic conflict'', or loss of
separation between air transport and VFR (visual flight
rules) aircraft, required ''improvement/additional
Despite a counter argument indicating the risk had already
decreased by 59% since peaking in 2007, the CAA said
Queenstown had the second-highest number of reported
loss-of-separation incidents in any airspace in New Zealand.
Eleven incidents were reported between April 1, 2011 and
March 31, 2014. While the five highest -ranking aerodromes
had similar numbers, the other four had two to three times
the number of annual movements at Queenstown.
''An absence of serious reported incidents between IFR
[instrument flight rules] and VFR aircraft does not indicate
an absence of risk,'' the document said.
''This is a recognised harm in itself well-known to
regulatory organisations `but this hasn't happened yet'.''
However, Mr Harrington said while the number was ''a
concern'' there were many ''layers of safety'' in place.
''While the term 'loss of separation' ... sounds quite
dramatic, it can be very minor.
''But it's good it's taken seriously, because it stops things
progressing through the more severe layers.''
The CAA document said operations at Queenstown had changed
''significantly'' in the 20 years since air traffic control
was introduced. Passenger numbers were forecast to treble
over the next 25 years.
Passengers were predominantly being carried by turbojet
rather than turboprop aircraft, increasing the risk of
exposing them to ''an airspace safety event''.
The CAA said factors driving that risk in Queenstown,
particularly for IFR aircraft, were high terrain close to the
aerodrome and flight paths; ''challenging environmental
conditions''; the runway - ''narrow and relatively short by
international standards'', with no taxiway, meaning aircraft
were required to ''backtrack''; and the large volume and
variety of traffic using the aerodrome and operating within
The proposal was supported by the air traffic service
provider and airline operators. Hang glider and paraglider
operators were opposed if it meant the existing method of
activation and/or the dimensions of the general aviation
areas would be changed.
Parachute operators did not state specifically whether they
supported the proposal, but wanted to see a review of
instrument flight rules
procedures to mitigate or minimise the effect on VFR
Fixed-wing and helicopter VFR operators raised several
concerns about the perceived impact on their operations and
opposed a change of classification, including the potential
for several VFR aircraft holding airspace within confined
The CAA agreed it was a ''significant safety issue'' and
mitigation would be considered should the classification be
If the designation was changed the authority would work to
ensure there would not be ''an unduly adverse financial
impact'' on operators, the document said.
A meeting will be held in Queenstown on Monday and a final
decision on the airspace is expected in August.