Gliding gleans glimmer of hope from interest in airfield operations

A glider pilot takes off from the Omarama Airfield during a gliding competition. PHOTO: ANDREW...
A glider pilot takes off from the Omarama Airfield. PHOTO: ANDREW ASHTON
Omarama Airfield Ltd has attracted the attention of several operators keen to bring gliding-related activities back to the Waitaki Valley township.

In early May, the Waitaki District Council-controlled company that owns the airfield put out a call for expressions of interest to companies interested in establishing a business there.

It came after Glide Omarama was told to stop flights by the Civil Aviation Authority in March, as it needed to re-certify from being a recreational aviation organisation, to an adventure aviation operation.

The cost — more than $100,000 — meant the business was forced to close, with the loss of 21 jobs, shortly before Covid-19 restrictions put activities at the airfield on hold.

However, Omarama Airfield Ltd chairman Clive Geddes said some form of gliding could be up and running by September or October, after seven companies, all based in New Zealand, responded by the May 22 deadline for expressions of interest.

He would not reveal to the Otago Daily Times who the operators were, what activities they had applied for, or if Glide Omarama had submitted an application.

Former Glide Omarama managing director Gavin Wills, who has now retired, directed comment to his son George when asked if he had applied.

He was unable to be contacted for comment yesterday.

An advertisement on the Gliding New Zealand Facebook page said the company would consider applications "for any one or all of towing, cross-country and ab initio training, trial and or scenic flight services", all covered under a three-year operating licence, which had an option of two rights of renewal and may include exclusive rights for specific services.

Mr Geddes said the present licence expired on June 30, and that it was imperative an operator was found for the next gliding season, which falls between September and May.

"It’s really about retaining activity given the overriding factor here ... is the impact of Covid. Really, what everybody involved with the airfield is doing is trying to re-establish a level of activity and re-establish jobs. Whether that will equal a year ago is most unlikely but once the licence to operate has been issued, it will create a level of activity on the airfield and in Omarama again."

Two applied for "activities that are not currently delivered on the airfield", he said, and others indicated they would be willing to work alongside other providers.

Other parties, including some from overseas, had contacted the company to requested additional information but did not formally apply.

It was planned for applications to be assessed by the end of June or early July, after which the successful applicant would be announced.

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