Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Civil Aviation rules will ground trial glider flights

The thrill of soaring on the thermals in the safe hands of the Tauranga Gliding Club will end for most people on April 30 next year because of new Civil Aviation rules.

Club spokesman Mark Arundel said it was the end of an era spanning 55 years in which the club has provided "trial flights" for thousands of people aged from five to 95.

The new rule will restrict the club to providing trail flights to people who had a genuine interest in gliding as a recreational pursuit. "The acid test is whether the person had a bona fide interest."

Rule 115 to improve safety was being progressively phased in across New Zealand's adventure aviation operators, ending with gliding joy rides on May 1. It would require the club to be certificated in much the same way as helicopter and small aeroplane operators.

Mr Arundel said becoming certified was just too onerous for a club with 80 members, costing tens of thousands of dollars just for the paperwork.

"The high costs and burden of responsibility were more than what we were willing to bear."

The club had been caught by the blanket provisions of the rule to improve safety, even though there had never been any fatalities or injuries in its 55 years of offering trial flights. "In our sport the risk usually happens in competitive or cross-country flying but when we take people for flights we are extremely safe."

Mr Arundel said it was a shame that gliding had been dragged in with the rest of adventure aviation, although he understood the intention.

It meant the club could not take someone who wanted to fulfil a dream or tick off a wish from their bucket list, such as when Tauranga's Les Munro, the world's last surviving pilot of the 1943 Dambusters raid, tasted gliding for the first time at the age of 87.

"We have taken lots of older people for flights and they have really enjoyed it."

The new rules will impact on club finances, with income from the trial flights helping to offset costs.

He was also concerned that it would slowly but surely diminish the amount of club gliding activity, which would in turn diminish safety because people like the tow plane pilot and chief flying officer would be less active.

The club was currently looking at how it will structure the new trial flight regime and at this stage it was likely that prospective club members would be asked to sign up for a three months so they could fly at club rates.

The current set up is that people only needed to be honorary members of the club for one day. 


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