GA in New Zealand

My husband Jared and I recently came back from spending a few vacation days in New Zealand (South Island only). When we travel abroad, we always try to look for opportunities to fly and experience the country from the air. Not only does it give you a special 3D perspective of the surroundings, but we are also curious to learn about the aviation systems in different countries, especially when it comes to General Aviation (GA). NZ made it easy for us to learn.

Just as a way to familiarize yourself a little bit with the country and its aviation… approximately 6,500 of its only 4.4 million people are GA pilots. People in NZ are greatly outnumbered by sheep, with over 7 sheep for every person. Geographically, about one quarter of the population live in the South Island, with Christchurch being the largest city. Over 20 percent of New Zealand is covered in national parks, forest areas and reserves.

GA was pretty prevalent in the areas of the South Island where we travelled. We only spent a week in NZ but it was a great and productive week with the help of a small campervan we rented. We flew into Christchurch (CHC), known as the gateway to the Antarctica, and did a loop back to CHC through Mount Cook National Park, Omarama, Queenstown, Te Anau, Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound, Wanaka, Mount Aspiring National Park, Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, Hokitika, and Arthur’s Pass National Park. During our time there, we noticed that GA is used, much like in the US, for business, pleasure, and as a necessity.

GA is the only way to get in and out of certain areas (as I mentioned before, 20 percent of NZ is federal land). I’ll mention two examples:

1) Tourists really only get a good view of the majestic national parks when taking a GA flight, whether it is a helicopter or an airplane ride due to access issues. A lot of tourists do actually take advantage of these opportunities so it wasn’t rare to see two or three aircraft at a time flying around these areas. I did one of those tours in Fiordland National Park. Amazing! More to come later.

2) There are so many remote areas in the country that sometimes, given different circumstances, GA flying is the only way to get access to these remote towns. The town (or township as they call it) of Milford is 73 miles (118 km) or 1 1/2 hours away by car from the nearest town – Te Anau. There is a stretch of the road that connects the two that often closes when the area experiences a lot of rain, causing land slides that are both hazardous to people and blocks the road with debris. Sometimes this road remains closed for several days at a time. Flying is the only way to get resources and people in and out Milford during that time. We talked with a local who was stuck in Milford for two days while visiting before she was flown out. Her car stayed in Milford for a week before she was able to go back to get it. Milford is not a bad place to be stuck in (it is truly a magical place to visit); however, she had to return to work and could not spend an additional week there. For those that remained for the week… food and supplies had to be flown in. As it is, the local campground and lodge only receives shipments twice a week but they are not prepared to be completely disconnected for an entire week.

And talking about Milford… the Milford Sound Airport (NZMF) is a beautiful, busy, and interesting place surrounded by fjords with a 2,565 ft. runway for daytime and VFR operations only. While there, both my husband and I swore it had to be a “one way in-same way out” type of airport regardless of winds; however, after coming back home and doing some research, it appears that takeoffs and landings can be done in either direction (although I would say that a high performing aircraft and a brave pilot would be required). Here is a document from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regarding departure and arrival procedures: Based on what we saw and observed, it appears that Runway 11 is preferred as a landing runway and Runway 29 is preferred as a takeoff runway.

During the day, NZMF is a very busy airport with both airplanes and helicopters flying air tours, taking and bringing hunters, bringing supplies, shuttling people from nearby towns, etc. However, come 6-7 pm, we found it to be a quiet and peaceful place with breathtaking views of the fjords around. My husband and I took this opportunity to (with permission, of course) walk the runway and take some pictures to share with you.

Aerial of Milford Sound (this is a photo of a poster)

Milford Sound Airport (NZMF) Ramp – This picture was taken when most aircraft were flying.

Runway 11 – Preferred Landing Runway

Waterfall to the left of Runway 11 – That’s how beautiful and natural this place is.

Runway 29 – Preferred Takeoff Runway

Cessna coming in to land on Runway 11

Parallel taxiway (doesn’t go down the entire length of the runway)

Terminal Building

I’ll also share with you my helicopter flight. I really wanted to rent a plane with an instructor and fly around with my husband for a couple of hours (this is normally what we do on our trips); however, our lack of time and some bad weather during the first few days of our trip prevented us from doing that. No problem, we will be back and a helicopter flight around Milford Sound and up to the Galore Glacier for a snow/ice landing really sounded great anyway. That is not something I can easily do back home in Texas so I took it. What an exciting flight!! The three German students onboard and I got to see the national park, the Airport’s tricky location, and glaciers up close and personal. During this short 25 minute flight, I noticed NZ uses some of the same procedures, signs, and nomenclature that Australia does (Jared and I flew around Sydney in May – look for another blog about this soon). For example, a runway pattern is a runway circuit.

Waiting for our ride in the helicopter after going to get a group of hunters. Notice the cargo compartment underneath the helicopter with their gear and equipment.

Glacier landing on Galore glacier. It felt like we were on top of the world.

Aerial of the Milford Sound Airport

Over the field for a left downwind

Final into helicopter area (tight area, I must say. You can see that in the first helicopter picture.)

We also saw a seaplane and a “water” heliport on Lake Te Anau.

To my surprise, I also paraglided for the first time while in NZ. My husband and I hang glided twice in Lookout Mountain, TN but I had never paraglided before. We were walking around small town Arrowtown (close to Queenstown) when we saw two paragliders up the mountain. I found it very cool and started taking pictures and videos when Jared said “let’s drive up and see if we can find them.” Well, he found them. We started talking with them (an American and a Czech) about paragliding and watching them fly when Jim, the Niagara Falls native and pilot, asked if we wanted to give it a try. You don’t have to tell me twice to try anything in GA so we flew tandem and had a blast. He was able to find a few thermals to keep up us in the air and do a few tricks until the wind started to die down and we landed by a cow field below the mountain. How fun! I might have to start paragliding back in the States.

Panoramic of the Valley overlooking Arrowtown, the Gibbston Hwy, Lake Hayes, and Frankton in the distance. This gliding location is just outside of Queenstown’s Class D airspace.

Paragliding. It’s hard to see us but you can see the canopy. Notice the very winding road to get you up the mountain.

Just having fun with what most of us know best – flying!

Both paragliders flying just before the winds died down and we landed down the mountain by a cow field.

While the mountain by Arrowtown generated a few good thermals, Omarama, about 80 miles to the NE, is world known among glider pilots for its strong lee wave conditions, ridge soaring, and thermal flying. It is common for gliders to soar hundreds of kilometers along the Southern Alps. Several national and world gliding records were set in Omarama and the prevailing conditions have attracted record seekers like Steve Fossett. When we drove by the town, we unfortunately did not see any gliders flying around but we did see they claim it to be “the gliding mecca” and I can see why.

On a slightly different note… we also noticed NZ seems to do a pretty good job at preserving their aviation history. While driving around, we saw two important pieces of history for the country: 1) Guy Menzies’ landing site from the very first solo flight from Australia to New Zealand on January 7, 1931 and 2) New Zealand’s first scheduled air service in Hokitika in 1934.

This is the nice plaque and information posted regarding Guy Manzies’ historic flight near Hari Hari. The flight, from Sydney, took him a long 11 hr and 45 mins over the rough Tasman Sea.

Although hard to reach (and see) because it is in private land, the windsock shown above is the exact location where Menzies crash landed. He originally intended to land in Blenheim, but was well off course and mistook a swamp as a landing paddock.

 The town of Hari Hari built this hangar to go into more detail regarding Menzies’ flight and accomplishment. Inside you can see a replica of the airplane he flew.

The building was closed when we were there but I was able to take this picture to try to show the replica biplane –> single-engine Avro Sports Avian IVA biplane G-ABCF “Southern Cross Junior”

Those are the plaque and information found in Hokitika commemorating the country’s first scheduled air service (Air Travel Ltd) founded by Bert Mercer in 1934.

 The original airport (aerodrome) in Hokitika was on the south side of town just over the Hokitika River where the plaque is located. The aerodrome’s susceptibility to flooding was problematic so, in 1948, the airfield was closed and moved to its current location on the other side of town (currently called Seaview Airport) by 1951. The old hangar in the picture above is still on its original place, by the plaque and information area.

Our very own Dave Hirschman, Senior Editor, visited NZ earlier this year also. He wrote a great article and posted an awesome video. If you haven’t seen them yet, I encourage you too. You can find them at: In addition, AOPA-NZ’s Web site is:

When you travel again, consider experiencing General Aviation (maybe with a local CFI depending on location). You will be happy you did. If you travel and fly abroad, you will also realize the great freedom of flight we have in the US and why it is so important to preserve it as is. This is one of the things we, at AOPA, do best and will continue to do so on behalf of our members.

Supporting Alaskan Airports—One at a Time

Reprinted from the Alaska Airmen’s Association’s Transponder

A lot of attention is given to high-level issues in the national aviation media. Will User Fees be thrust upon us? or Is 100LL an endangered species? The headlines frequently overshadow a lot of good work that is done at the local level, often one airport at a time.  AOPA recognized the need for grass-roots efforts at a time when general aviation airports were disappearing at a frightening rate, mostly due to land-use conflicts and economic pressures.  Since airports are typically owned by local municipal governments in most of the country, it was clear that early warning of an impending threat was critical to their survival. (Alaska is an exception here, where the state directly operates 254 airports.)  To address this need, in 1997 AOPA established the Airport Support Network (ASN) Program.

Volunteers were solicited to be eyes and ears at public-use airports, to sound the alarm if a threat loomed that might harm or close the airport.  Presently AOPA has over 2,000 ASN Volunteers nationwide.  Over the years the program has progressed from just “sounding the alarm” to a much more proactive set of activities.  Alaska has twenty seven ASN Volunteers, who perform a wide range of activities that are supporting our airports.  I’ll highlight a few of those individuals, and some of the activities they are engaged in to illustrate how the program works.

Organizing a local airport group  Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) is home to over 300 airplanes tied down on the GA side of the airport, and an additional 175 planes at the float pond.  In the past, tie down holders didn’t have a good way to provide input to airport management concerning issues at the field.  Early in his tenure as the ASN at Fairbanks, Ron Dearborn sat down with other GA stakeholders and, aided with some of AOPA’s materials on organizing an airport group, established the General Aviation Association (GAA) at FAI in 2005.  He chaired the group for its first couple years. By attending regular airport meetings and getting to know the airport management and control tower staff, he established the GAA as a positive voice with these stakeholders.

Ron Dearborn (left) holds the tape while Kevin Alexander marks where to paint a runway marker on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Today, others have taken over the officer positions in the association, freeing Ron to work on special projects and plan future activities. Some of his current projects include serving on the airport’s Master Plan technical committee, and coordinating volunteers to help paint the “practice runway” markings on the Ski Strip.  He also helped organize an airport open house that brought approximately 2,000 members of the public to an “aviation day” last spring.  Ron is justifiably proud that the group, although not large in size, has today become an organization that the airport seeks out when looking for issues that impact general aviation.

Subtle hint to FAI based pilots: The $10/year dues to belong to this local group is a cheap price to have GA represented on airport issues. That is less than the cost of two gallons of avgas.  In addition to current information, you get really good cookies at the association meetings, held several times a year.  Please consider joining, to lend your support to this effort!

Protecting Land Use Around Airports  In 2009 Nenana’s ASN Volunteer, Adam White, learned that a community group was looking to improve the “wellness and quality of life” for their residents.  The project they wanted to undertake was certainly a worthy cause—to expand the size of their community garden from ½ to 10 acres in size. This group, which Adam is a part of, approached the city looking for some land to cultivate. A city official recommended looking at “the area off the end of the runway” as they “couldn’t do anything else with it.”  Adam contacted AOPA for help in researching the issue.  He eventually located the advisory circular on airport design, defining the different zones around a runway, and AC 150/5200-33B, Hazardous Wildlife Attractants on or Near Airports. Armed with this information, he attended the next community group meeting, and was able to explain why this was not a good use of the land off the end of the runway.  Captain Sullenberger, having recently made the dramatic splashdown in the Hudson River after losing his engines due to bird strikes, certainly helped illustrate the potential of this threat.  An alternate location was found for the garden spot expansion. Today, the airport safety zone is used to harvest hay, as opposed to incurring the ongoing cost for continued brush mowing.

Adam White, seen here working on a radio translator at Ruby, uses the Nenana Airport to access numerous remote locations around the state.

An aspect of Adam’s work transcended the Nenana airport. One of the community partners in the group was an extension agent who travels around the state setting up similar gardens.  Following the meeting, Adam was able to provide the agent with copies of the FAA Advisory Circulars. The agent stated that she would make sure that none of their other projects encroached on village airports.  Adam and his family planted and harvested produce from the community garden for a number of years in Nenana, safely away from the approach path he uses at the airport.

Monitoring Merrill Field The busiest GA airport in Alaska, Merrill Field is one of only a couple dozen municipally operated airports in the state.  Surrounded by neighborhoods that are sensitive to aircraft noise, and sometimes in the path of road projects wanting to nibble away at airport property, there are many issues to track.  Jim Cieplak keeps his Cessna 182 tied down at Merrill, and has served as the ASN Volunteer since 2005.

Jim Cieplak, commanding his Cessna 182 that he keeps tied down at Merrill Field.

Along with many local governments looking for increased revenue, the Municipality of Anchorage in 2010 proposed doubling the aircraft registration tax.  If successful this action would have applied not just to aircraft at Merrill Field, but to all the aircraft in the municipality.  Jim worked with the Alaska Airmen’s Association, EAA, the Municipal Airports Aviation Advisory Commission (MAAAC) and other stakeholders to successfully oppose the tax hike.  Upon seeing the benefit of more directly influencing airport decisions, in 2011 Jim applied for and was appointed to a seat on the MAAAC, the body that advises the municipality on rules, regulations and administrative guidelines concerning Merrill Field.

Merrill Field is one of fifteen airports in the nation that was selected for air quality monitoring to quantify the amount of lead that aircraft contribute to the atmosphere.  For the past year, a sampler has been filtering the air off the south east corner of Runway 25.  Jim was tracking this effort, and when the initial results were distributed at a Commission meeting, he forwarded them to AOPA headquarters to the national team that is working the 100LL avgas issue.  The preliminary results show that aircraft on Merrill Field are coming nowhere near reaching the limits defined by the national air quality standard for lead.  This helps the national team to keep on top of the situation as they work to protect our access to 100LL, vital to much of the aviation fleet in Alaska.

Jim will continue follow the lead monitoring program, and many other issues at Merrill.   He also serves on the Airport Support Network Board of Advisers, providing input to the program at the national level.

More volunteers needed   These have been just a few examples of ASN Volunteer activities to protect or improve Alaskan airports.  There are many more accomplishments, and plenty of challenges.  The program was grown from a defensive “save the airport” stance, to a more proactive, “let’s promote the airport” effort.  Instead of waiting for trouble, investing the time to help a community understand the value of its local airport is an important activity we all need to support.  AOPA has created tools to help, such as the guide, Holding an Airport Open House. Population pressures that bring development closer to the boundary of an airport are a problem in Alaska. Getting our city, borough and state government to engage in compatible land use planning, to avoid putting schools and residential areas under the runway approach path, is critical to the long term survival of our airports.  To address this problem, AOPA has recently published a guide on how to participate in the planning process.

But it starts with one person—woman or man—who will step up and become involved with their local airport.  If you are willing to consider helping in this way, look at the ASN website for details on what you can do:  Find out if your airport has already has an ASN. If so, look that person up and offer your assistance. If there is no ASN Volunteer, consider signing up to fill that role, and become engaged in improving your airport.  If you need more information, please contact me directly  The airport you save just may be your own!


Photo By; Gerald Viveirus

L to R: Clay Cook, Ken Robinson, Mayor Bragg, David Swindler – Photo By: Gerald Viveiros


Don’t let the title fool you. This is a prestigious award conceived for an honorable purpose… to improve relationships and communications between airport users, operators and city officials. And each year’s trophy is nothing short of a masterpiece crafted by AOPA member “Capt.” David L. Swindler, the PIC of Navion “Ar Farce One”. Swindler is also the award’s founder. Presentation takes place at EAA #419’s Annual Christmas Banquet by Murfreesboro’s Mayor, The Honorable Tommy Bragg, MBT’s most avid public supporter. I have witnessed a number of these presentations. They rival aviation hall of fame induction from the Mayor’s formal introduction to an always emotional acceptance by the winner.

This years MBT Airport Bun of the Year award winner was Murfeeesboro native, Mr. William Kenneth Robinson, former Operations Manager of the Arnold Engineering Development Center’s Jet & Rocket Test Center. Since retiring in 1991, he has been restoring and flying an Aeronca Champ. Robinson joined the USAF in 1947 and cut his teeth in the new world of jet propulsion as an engine mechanic stationed at Keesler, Chanute and Andrews AFB’s. Employed later by Capitol Airways, he worked on lots of round engines that powered DC-3’s, C-47’s, C-54’s and DC-4’s.

Begun in 1995, this ABY award has now been presented to 20 lucky winners, each receiving Swindler’s magnificent collectable wire model of an airplane, space vehicle or engine the recipient might own or love. I will never be MBT’s Airport Bum of the Year, but I lust for one of Dave’s extraordinary models, crafted with a depth of caring, love and dedication to general aviation so many of us feel and long to express.

State of Tennessee Regulating Flight Schools

Tennessee’s Higher Education Commission – Post Secondary Schools Division is regulating VA Approved, Part 141 Flight Schools under its administrative rules, Chapter 1540-01-02. I submitted our AOPA comments/objections in March of this year saying, in part “This rule discriminates against FAR Part 141 Flight Schools who have invested extraordinary amounts of money into facilities, equipment and aircraft that now must meet the Rules and pay the fees of the THEC at even  more expense, thus their customers/students will have to pay more. The rule discourages establishing a Part 141 Flight School in Tennessee and the jobs that are created as well.” Tennessee’s Part 141 Flight Schools are required to comply with the THEC Rules as well as those of the Veterans Administration and the FAA. All of them differ so the financial and administrative burden is significant. It appears that we are going to have to seek a legislative solution during the upcoming session of the 108th General Assembly.