Allocation compromises specialist pilot training

The Department of Conservation is being accused of creating an unsafe environment for air travellers to Milford Sound by denying landing rights to the four companies that train Milford pilots.

Wakatipu Aero Club, Aspiring Air, Wanaka Helicopters and Classic Flights provide the specialist training for all the pilots who want to work in the Milford air industry.

However, all four have missed out on winning a "packet" of landings at Milford aerodrome in the department's new tendering system designed to reduce the noise nuisance of aircraft.

The Wakatipu Aero Club bid for 219 landings but has been allocated none.

Chief flying instructor Julianne Kramer told the Otago Daily Times 23 of the 25 Queenstown pilots flying into Milford were trained by the club, but it would not be able to continue without landing rights.

"Doc say they can't be held accountable for any safety concerns arising out of this.

"But if they take away all of the training organisations' opportunities, how can they not be responsible for the next accident that occurs? They've just created a whole new Cave Creek, haven't they?"

Wanaka-based Aspiring Air last year trained six pilots but CEO David Horsburgh said that now the company was without landing rights it, too, could not continue providing that service to the industry.

"The operators who have been given these packets of landings will have to train the pilots and use their commercially valuable landings for training pilots."

Community relations manager for Doc in Southland, Martin Kessick said yesterday Doc had discussed the training issue with two operators.

"We are attempting to see whether there is any option that will allow us to look at how we can accommodate training from the aerodrome.

"That doesn't look good at the moment."

He understood one of the training clubs was going back to the operators to see if there was some way for training to be accommodated within the landing packets of other companies.

Asked if Doc considered specific Milford training desirable, Mr Kessick referred the ODT to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

"We certainly have no objection and it certainly makes sense for pilots, I guess, to be familiar with the landing requirements at Milford."

CAA spokesman Mervyn Falconer said it had been speaking to Doc about the need for operators to be able to adequately train their pilots without restrictions to access.

"Our concern is with the safety issues.

"We don't want to get involved in the commercial aspects of concessions."

At one time, pilots needed a "Milford rating" to be able to fly there.

Although that requirement was dispensed with during the 1983 deregulation of the aviation industry, tourist operators have continued to insist new commercial pilots complete up to 50 hours of mountain training, including a "Milford module".

Ms Kramer said it can take up to 10 sessions of circuit training in tricky wind conditions at the Milford aerodrome before new pilots feel comfortable "and you feel comfortable leaving them to it".

He said there were two weather patterns that made flying into Milford potentially dangerous.

Occasional southeasterly winds that "pour over the mountain ranges" caused "very turbulent" conditions while the daily sea breeze often turned Milford Sound into a wind tunnel.

"We can train people how to cope with that, but that takes a certain amount of flying and obviously the training can only be done when those conditions exist."


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