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As many as 500 helicopters could be in action tonight as orchard and vineyard owners wait poised to protect precious harvests from frosts forecast for most parts of New Zealand.
Helicopter companies the length of the country were on stand-by to respond if clear skies following on the heels of heavy snowfalls produced frosts tonight as predicted, Helipro business manager John Read said.
"There are 670 helicopters in New Zealand and 85-90% of them will be out on a big frost night. I would not be surprised if there were more than 500 flying tonight, based on the forecasts I have seen."
Frosts were anticipated in most of New Zealand's wine and fruit-producing areas, from Martinborough to Queenstown, he said.
As many as 100 helicopters might be needed in the Central Otago and Queenstown areas.
Helipro operates 32 machines from six bases. Its most southerly base is Christchurch.
However, Mr Read, who is based in Palmerston North, said helicopters would be flown big distances to reach vineyards and orchards.
"It is not unheard of for Invercargill helicopters to fly to Canterbury or Marlborough, or for Auckland machines to come down to Marlborough. They go where the work is."
Most large vineyards and orchards had frost-fighting contracts with helicopter companies, he said.
Companies would know by 9am today whether their machines were likely to be needed, with clients firming up their requirements as forecasts were updated during the day.
Helicopter companies tried to relocate machines, pilots and resources to their overnight location during daylight hours.
Fighting frost could be costly, with charges for flying time alone ranging from $950 to $3500 per hour, Mr Read said.
"It's all about risk management . . . It's more expensive for the orchardists and vineyard [owners] to lose their harvests."