Deal sees aero club still flying

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 15/03/2013

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The troubled Nelson Aero Club has negotiated a deal that will ensure its survival for at least the next few years.

Aero club president Maurice Tighe confirmed its flying school has closed and will be taken on by the Motueka-based Nelson Aviation College, which already has a presence at the aero club.

"We are adapting for the times to ensure the livelihood of the Nelson Aero Club," Mr Tighe said.

The club confirmed this week it had laid off both its instructors, amid conjecture there was trouble within its governance ranks.

Former vice-president and current aero club member Steve Rule recently triggered a petition for a special general meeting, which is expected to be held within a month.

Mr Rule, who resigned as vice-president a year ago, said this week the situation at the club was "very bad" and appeared to be the result of excessive secrecy around club operations.

He said the special meeting had been called with the aim of seeking explanations over some of the decisions.

A letter sent to aero club members on Wednesday outlined the difficulties of providing a professional instruction service which had "gone beyond the expertise of an incorporated society". Mr Rule said the letter was a direct response to his actions concerning the aero club's survival. The special meeting would still go ahead.

"The members need to have their say as to the club's fate or future direction," Mr Rule said.

Mr Tighe, who has been associated with the aero club for more than 20 years, said its flying school had fallen victim to the tight economic times, and increased administration and compliance requirements, rather than any mismanagement.

He said the club had recorded financial losses in excess of $100,000 over the past two years, with losses continuing into this year, and it would be "abdicating its responsibility if it did not take measures to arrest the decline".

The club had gone from one instructor to two and increased its opening hours over seven days in order to try to increase flying hours, but the return did not eventuate, said Mr Tighe.

"We need 80 [flying] hours a month to break even. Last year the average per month was 60 hours. We had a huge increase in our costs and by the end of the year the club had only increased the hours by two a month.

"The flying simply did not materialise, and we were at our wits' end with what to do next."

Mr Tighe said the club was very sorry that it had to lay off its instructors, but in the end it had no choice.

"It's very sad because they're two very good men.

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"We had to look at all the alternatives and that took time. We could have sold the club and walked away, but that wasn't an option as far as I'm concerned.

"This hasn't been a sudden thing - we've tried everything."

Mr Tighe said the club had been in commercially sensitive negotiations with the aviation college for some time, which was why it had been unable to reveal its dealings to members or the public.

Nelson Aviation College chief executive Giles Witney declined to comment, saying a statement would be issued next month.

The aero club said the college planned to extend the area that it currently leases at the aero club to include the reception and offices.

- The Nelson Mail

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