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Disgust at air traffic control cuts

'They are putting commercial interests ahead of safety'.

A long-time Gisborne recreational and commercial aviator is “disgusted” at the proposal to do away with air traffic controllers at the airport.

National air traffic control provider Airways has confirmed control tower services at Gisborne and four other provincial airports will be progressively withdrawn.

Airways will withdraw air traffic control services from its towers at Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Invercargill airports.

Gisborne Aviation Preservation Society trustee Paul Corrin, who flies commercially for Sunair Aviation, said he was “disgusted” by the proposal.

Airways said in a statement confirming the proposal that passenger safety and airline operations would not be affected.

Mr Corrin, who has more than 40 years experience as a pilot, completely disagrees.

“The whole idea is a real concern and I'm disgusted by it. They are putting commercial interests ahead of safety.

“When we fly around in the clouds we need to know who else is flying around with us. Weather conditions limit visibility, such as when flying in cloud, and separation from other aircraft is provided by air traffic control.

“Not all aircraft have the equipment to be able to identify nearby traffic in poor visibility.

“On those occasions, Airways have procedures in place and air traffic controllers calculate distances, altitudes, speeds and headings of the air traffic, then provide instruction to aircraft to maintain minimum separations, and therefore provide a high level of safety to those aircraft.

“Airways radar surveillance is unable to detect any aircraft below about 6000 feet (1830 metres) in Gisborne airspace, therefore it is the skill of the controllers providing instruction to the pilots that maintains the safety of the travelling public.”

Mr Corrin said the proposal flew in the face of everything the Government had been saying about saving jobs.

Airways has five staff in Gisborne.

Airways chief executive Graeme Sumner has said a working party that includes representatives from the affected airports, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), a general aviation representative and Air New Zealand will plan a safe and orderly transition.

Eastland Group chief executive Matt Todd said his organisation was open to understanding what the outcomes might be but safety was paramount, and the process must be robust and independent.

The working group will identify when the current services will be withdrawn from each airport and what type of service, if any, they may be replaced with.

That process is expected to take around six months.

Mr Sumner said the dramatic collapse in flight numbers prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic had hastened the need to make changes to how air navigation services were delivered to ensure their long-term viability.

Mr Corrin said the loss of air traffic control capability in Gisborne would not affect plans by the Aviation Preservation Society to run future air shows.

“We are intending to hold another Wings and Wheels Show in a couple of years and an open day early next year.

“Obviously we need to see what decisions get made around gathering size under the Covid-19 restrictions, but at this stage we are going ahead with our planning for that open day.”

Air traffic controllers pictured at Gisborne Airport in January, last year during the Darton Field Wings and Wheels airshow. The air traffic control service at Gisborne is to cease, along with towers at Hawke's Bay, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Invercargill. Picture by Liam Clayton
‘DISGUSTED': Pilot Paul Corrin disagrees with a move to axe air traffic controllers in Gisborne. File picture