11 incidents at resort breach airspace rules

Airspace rules were broken 11 times at Queenstown Airport last year by light aircraft and adventure-related activity operators, figures from New Zealand's national air navigation provider service show.

Airways, a state-owned enterprise which operates commercially and looks after air traffic throughout the country, released figures about the number of airspace infringements after an Official Information Act request by the Otago Daily Times.

Airways solicitor Sarah Petrie said airspace infringement incidents at Dunedin and Queenstown airports were prevalent, with 14 incidents recorded at the Otago airfields since October 2010.

Queenstown Airport recorded 11 incidents last year, including three which involved helicopters, three with aeroplanes, while another three incidents were related to adventure-type activities, she said.

In January, last year, a hang-glider was found by Airways to be operating without clearance in the Queenstown Airport airspace, while in August, kite-snowboarders had infringed by being within a controlled zone and in proximity to runways without prior approval.

An aircraft, which departed from an airstrip at Jardines without clearance when another aircraft was cleared for a parachute drop, badly infringed airspace rules in October last year, Ms Petrie said.

Six airspace breaches were made by light aircraft (three each by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft), operating under visual flight rules (VFR), she said.

"All infringements could potentially have a serious outcome and therefore are treated seriously," Ms Petrie said.

Airways does not investigate airspace infringements and refers any matters to the Civil Aviation Authority, she said.

"We can, however, advise that none of the aircraft involved belong to a scheduled passenger airline. Such aircraft do not generally infringe controlled airspace because they almost exclusively operate within the confines of controlled airspace."

At least one incident is believed to have involved a commercial operator, flying under VFR, within Queenstown Airport airspace, Ms Petrie said.

CAA spokeswoman Emma Peel said the authority did not specifically investigate incidents when airspace rules were broken, unless the matters caused an accident or injury to people.

"We still record them and encourage reporting of such incidents. If there are a number of multiple instances, then the frequency of reported incidents enables us to identify whether there any bigger problems which may emerge," she said.

Multiple events of minor infringements could highlight issues, if they were happening on a frequent basis, Ms Peel said.

Former Queenstown Airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said airspace incidents were the domain of Airways.

"We are only responsible for the management of the airfield itself related to `on-the-ground' matters," he said.

There had not been any breaches or "near-miss" incidents related to aircraft on the ground at the airport, Mr Sanderson said.

Ms Petrie said air traffic services had not been required to become involved with any of the airspace infringements, last year.

Airways could not disclose information about commercial aircraft operators involved in any of the airspace infringements, for confidentiality and commercial reasons.

"Given the nature of controlled and uncontrolled airspace, such infringements are relatively common and usually unintentional and non-hazardous. To disclose details of persons who have infringed airspace could make people lose faith in the operator and cause unjustified commercial damage," she said.

Airways only began "specifically" tracking airspace infringement incidents from October 2010, she said.

Three airspace infringements occurred at the two main Otago airports in the past three months of 2010 - two at Queenstown and one in Dunedin.

Infringements
Queenstown Airport airspace infringement incidents 2011:
- Three helicopter incidents
- Three fixed-wing craft incidents
- Three incidents were adventure activity-related; hang-gliding, kite-snowboarding, and parachuting
- No incidents involving scheduled passenger airlines

 

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