Ombudsman rules against helicopter landings

The Department of Conservation's decision to allow helicopter landings at a remote Fiordland mountain plateau to increase from 10 to 70 a day was "contrary to law'', the Ombudsman has found.

After Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) laid an official complaint, Ombudsman Leo Donnelly yesterday ordered Doc to cancel the extra landings.

Doc must also report regularly on how it reduces the number of landings to an acceptable level.

FMC president Peter Wilson said it was a victory for the outdoor community, for the rule of law on public land, and for the intrinsic values of Fiordland.

"FMC always knew that Doc was wrong in granting the extra landings, but it is satisfying to have it declared unlawful.

"National park management plans mean what they say and say what they mean, and are not open for abuse by the department in response to pressure from the previous government and the tourism industry.''

In his decision, released yesterday, Mr Donnelly said it appeared the department had faced growing pressure from the aviation tourism industry to meet tourist demand for glacier landings.

In 2016, in what it claimed was a "research trial'', Doc allowed 70 helicopter landings a day on the Ngapunatoru Plateau near Milford Sound - six times the daily aircraft landing limit for the plateau.

Doc deputy director-general operations Mike Slater said the department accepted it "got it wrong'' by not following the limits set in the Fiordland National Park management plan.

The department had been trying to be pragmatic and balance growing demands from tourism operators for more scenic glacier landings with the impact such landings could have on other users and the environment.

It would work to implement the Ombudsman's recommendations "as soon as reasonably practicable''.

Mr Wilson said it was the second such ruling by the Ombudsman in recent years over faulty Doc decision-making.

In 2014, then-Ombudsman Ron Paterson described a decision by Doc to allow extra guided walkers on the Routeburn Track as "nonsense on stilts''. - Additional reporting by the Greymouth Star


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