WHAKATANE Airport may be surviving on a wing and a prayer, but it’s missing out on an opportunity to raise more funds.
So says Whakatane Aero Club member Peter Mullooly, who believes Whakatane District Council should be charging visiting pilots landing fees, as other regional airports do.
Mr Mullooly is responding to a story in Friday’s Beacon that identifies Whakatane Airport as one of 12 regional airports at risk of long-term closure because of a lack of funding from Government.
Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne told the Beacon the airport was not going to close. But he said because the airport was half-owned by the Ministry of Transport, ratepayers had to pay for half of its annual losses of about $100,000.
Mr Mullooly said the Aero Club, which is based at the airport and made up of mostly retirees, had done a study over the past year of visiting small craft pilots and worked out that the council had missed out on $5300 in landing fees.
The club was also unhappy because the council had increased its recreation fees 33 percent two years ago to $200 a flyer, and felt the council should be looking at alternative ways to raise funds.
Mr Mullooly said the club had requested a meeting in February this year before council reviewed the charges for 2017-18, but they had already been passed.
The council said it was aware of the club’s views, but the solution they wanted was “impracticable”.
Council spokesman Ross Boreham said the cost of the software needed to monitor landings and take-offs, plus the cost of invoicing individual users, would exceed the revenue generated.
However, Mr Mullooly said other airports used honesty boxes, whereby the pilots would fill in their details and pay their money into a locked box kept near the runway.
Mr Boreham said the honesty box system also had issues in terms of the airport’s audit requirements.
He said landing fees and charges would be reviewed next year as part of the council’s 2018-28 long term plan process.
Mr Mullooly said Whakatane Airport previously used the “envelope” system to collect landing fees.
“Two years ago council had a system whereby money could be put into supplied envelopes and deposited at the terminal – $5, $10, $20 for the different rated aircraft. So there shouldn’t be any audit problems.
“Raglan, Pauanui, Whitianga, Waihi … they have all got an honesty system. There is an envelope there and when you land you put your money in it.
“Other pilots love landing here – they don’t have to pay anything.”
Mr Mullooly said the club had also, at its expense, installed a grass runway and had maintained this for several years.
The New Zealand Airports Association released a report last week saying it was unfair and unviable for smaller councils – and their ratepayers – to foot the bills for smaller airports. It has proposed a joint central and local government fund be set up to assist these small airports to the tune of $32 million over five years.
Mr Bonne agreed with the NZAA that air travel was not a luxury but an essential form of transport. He said it was not subsidised by the Government, yet “roading, rail, ports and cycleways are”.
See the NZAA campaign for the long-term survival of local airports: www.flylocal.nz