Aviators angry

16:00, Nov 09 2012
Derek Harding
Dreams of flying were realised last month when Spring Creek vicar Derek Harding obtained a private pilot’s licence. But he may only have it for a year, following licence fee hikes set by the Civil Aviation Authority on November 1. The increases are outrageous, say pilots at the Marlborough Aero Club.

Many pilots will be grounded by the Civil Aviation Authority's new licence fees, say Marlborough Aero Club members.

A new funding framework will kick in from November, affecting all civil aviation fees, charges and levies.

The cost of pilots' licences will go up from about $56 to $230.

Pilots will also have to pay a new fixed "medical certificate application fee" of $313 every time their health is assessed, which for most is an annual requirement.

The rate at which the authority charges for non-medical services - mainly auditing - will jump from $135.70 per hour to $208 per hour and hit $284 per hour by the end of 2014.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has said the increases will lead to improved operations in future.


"The Government considers that people who choose to fly, or operate airline and aircraft, should meet the full cost of these operations and is taking a phased approach towards this," he said in a statement earlier this year.

"Phased approach" means fees keep increasing for the next three years, explains newly-licensed pilot Derek Harding.

He was taught to fly by Marlborough Aero Club chief flying instructor Travers Tennant. Travers, who also flies planes for Sounds Air, predicts the high fees will discourage many people from getting a pilot's licence. Others will let theirs lapse when they needrenewing, he predicts.

The Marlborough Aero Club has more than 300 members, ranging from people in their teens to a man in his 80s. There are farmers, small charter plane operators, airline pilots, semi-retired instructors and people who enjoy flying part-time as a hobby.

The new fees will make the aviation world inaccessible for many, Travers says. When people contact the club about learning to fly, the first thing they want to know is: "How much will it cost?"

Club member John Neal has been flying since 1964 and was an Air Training Corp flight instructor for 30 years at Base Woodbourne.

He believes the "horrendous" new fees will result in pilots reducing their level of training to cut costs - and subsequently public safety levels.

As an instructor, he would urge everyone passing their private pilot's licence to get their commercial licence. They might not have wanted to fly commercially but the extra skills made them safer pilots.

John challenges the Government's "user pays" argument for increasing aviation fees. They have been set by the CAA to fund the CAA. It is the regulatory body and has no competition.

"They just do what they like, they have no accountability."

One new charge is a $313 application fee pilots must pay CAA before they can see a DME, or designated medical examiner, who will assess their fitness to fly. The DME approved for pilots in Marlborough travels down from Palmerston North. His hourly fee, $430 last year, has risen to $700. If he identifies anyone with a specific health issue, like Derek who has Type 2 diabetes, he refers them to see a specialist in Nelson for further assessment - and charges.

More costs are added by having to take a day off work and having to travel to Nelson, says club member and agricultural pilot Ray Patchett.

The fixed wing top dressing pilot and director of Patchett Ag Air Ltd holds a commercial pilot's licence and an operator's licence.

To retain that, Patchett Ag Air must be regularly audited and the hourly auditing fees for official checks on his aeroplane, spray product, application methods and record-keeping systems exceed his hourly flying fees.

Other senseless regulations include the English language test pilots must pass before they can get a licence, the members say.

Ray has held his commercial pilot's licence since 1982 but to get a private helicopter's licence he must pay $122 for a 10 minute test to prove he can communicate in English.

Derek, an Englishman who addresses congregations each Sunday as the vicar at St Luke's Church in Spring Creek, had to pay for a test, too, even though he had just completed 63 hours' flight instruction where he was regularly communicating with Travers and air traffic control operators.

Marlborough Aero Club member David Rose says he will let his private pilot's licence lapse rather than fork out $700 to pass a new medical test to renew it. "It was $430 last year and it was a thorough medical so I was happy to pay that."

He isn't planning on giving up flying, yet, though:

"I'm just going to fly a [single-seater] microlight now. You only need a $65 medical for that."

● A petition against the fee increases can be found on the Marlborough Aero Club website.

The Marlborough Express