04 October 2018

DOC restricts Milford Flight

In a season when visitor numbers to Milford Sound are expected to reach an all time high, the number of aircraft landings there is about to be stripped by about 2500. A total of 12,314 regular landings per year are permitted at the Milford Aerodrome, the 34 concessions for which are managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). These allocations were made by the then Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson in 2011 and remain fixed until the concessions expire in 2021. However, since February 2013, an additional 2500 landings a year have been allowed under what is known as a "supplementary pool" whereby concessionaires who have used 80% of their own allocations can apply for additional landings from the pool. Last year the supplementary pool was completely used up for the first time and this year DOC has received requests for more supplementary landings than is available in the pool. But two weeks ago the companies operating air services to Milford received a letter from DOC advising that the supplementary pool scheme will be scrapped from January 1. It will continue to run as normal until the end of this year or until it has been fully allocated, whichever comes first. In addition, landing fees at Milford will increase from $15 to $19 next year (effective January 1, 2019) then jump to between $45 and $200 the following year, based on the weight of the aircraft. DOC has also advised it will be increasing its management fee for the concessions from $400 to $500 from January 1. DOC Southern South Island director Aaron Fleming said DOC was trying to simplify the way it managed landings at the Milford Aerodrome and make the process fairer for all operators. "Over the past two years this supplementary pool has become more difficult to manage and so DOC has decided that from 1 January 2019, the supplementary pool will be discontinued." Instead, operators will be encouraged to work with one another to share existing allocations. "Concessionaires will continue to be able [to] apply to subpermit to existing Aerodrome concessionaires, or assign their unused landing allocations to other operators, provided both parties and DOC agree to the transfer," Mr Fleming's September 21 letter to operators says. "These measures are seen as being fairer to all concessionaires and give operators the opportunity to manage their own activities within the landing limits." Milford Aerodrome users are due to meet tonight in Queenstown to discuss their response to the changes. President of the Queenstown Milford User Group Paul Cooper declined to comment on the matter until after that meeting. However, Aviation New Zealand chief executive John Nicholson said the arbitrary decision making by DOC would have a significant impact on tourism operators in the area – where they could operate, staffing and wealth for the region. “DOC placing changes has a real ability to impact on what these companies can do but impact on New Zealand’s reputation. That’s just real amateur, a really amateur approach.” Mr Nicholson said there were very professional operators in the area providing top class services for tourists or visitors. “I can’t help but feel if they (DOC) came to the Queenstown Milford User Group and said ‘look, here’s the sort of problem we’re trying to address’, they would’ve got a much more workable solution.” Mr Nicholson said he planned to raise the industry’s concerns directly with DOC’s director general Lou Sanson later this month. The tourism industry is also keeping a close eye on the situation. Tourism Industry Aotearoa (TIA) chief executive Chris Roberts said his organisation was “well aware of the issue and is working closely with the operators and with DOC to seek a sensible outcome”. “There is a meeting of the operators who use Milford Airport later this week and TIA will be having further discussions with DOC following that meeting.”

Source : Southern Advocate, 4 October 2018

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