Friends create own airstrip near Blenheim for $2000

A group of five aircraft enthusiasts from Marlborough have developed their own airstrip near Blenheim who say it could be used by small commercial operators flying to and from the North Island.

The new Sky Harbour Airfield at Marshlands, near Spring Creek, has been a nine-month "labour of love" for the five friends - including a former commercial pilot, a former airfield owner, an aircraft engineer tutor, a small aircraft builder and someone with a field big enough to land a plane.

The men, aged from their 50s to their 70s, built the airstrip themselves, putting up an electric fence to keep the cows out and flattening the ground for the runway with a 12-tonne roller.

Former US commercial pilot Ron Long said they marked out the 950-metre landing strip with old white car tyres . . . "as everybody does".

All it needed was a wind sock, Mr Long said.

The men wanted their own airstrip, and somewhere to keep their planes, but hoped to develop the site into a fully operational airfield, particularly as a safe place for microlights to operate without the danger of them having to make a forced landing in vineyards in the unlikely event of having an engine failure on takeoff.

There are very few areas left in the Wairau Valley where this is possible, they say. Anthony Chaytor's property, where the airstrip is situated, is ideal, with extended landing areas in both directions. Mr Chaytor has been a microlight enthusiast and has owned many aircraft over the years, and he was keen to see the airstrip on his farm become active again.

The men have been in consultation with the Civil Aviation Authority and the air traffic controllers at Woodbourne.

"We look forward to the airstrip growing," Mr Long said.

"We will try to develop it for aviation-related businesses, like a maintenance facility or paint shop, and ultra-light flight instruction. If small commercial operators, like Sounds Air or air2there wanted to operate out of there, they would be 100 per cent welcome but we haven't talked to them."

The Sky Harbour Airfield could be used by small commercial aircraft in emergency situations or bad weather, Mr Long said.

Eight kilometres from Marlborough Airport and four kilometres from Picton Airport, it was the closest airfield to the North Island, he said.

All people using the strip needed was clearance from Woodbourne air traffic control and a transponder.

The transponder would make an aircraft show up on air traffic control's radar, Mr Long said.

"The field is open for anyone to use and you don't have to call for a reservation," he said. "We think it will be a good asset for the region and an additional airstrip in case of emergencies."

The Sky Harbour Airfield cost only $2000 to develop, with the men sourcing second-hand materials, such as fence posts and fencing, from Blenheim businesses.

There was no charge to land at the runway, although there would likely be a $15 overnight parking fee.

The group was also looking at putting in an access road, Mr Long said.

"It's a beautiful, remote area to fly in and out of with very few obstructions, which makes it nice and safe."

For information on the airfield call Ron Long on 022 137 3344.

The Marlborough Express