Happy landing for 75 years

02:30, Dec 02 2013
SWEET MEMORIES: June Spencer, left, who was at the opening of Nelson airport 75 years ago, prepares to cut the anniversary cake with airport chief executive Kaye McNabb.

There were aircraft and displays aplenty at Nelson Airport on Saturday but a magnificent cake almost took the biscuit.

Baked, constructed and donated by Stoke business Chocolate Velvet, the 1200mm by 900mm cake, handed out to the public at the Nelson Airport 75th anniversary community day, weighed 70kg.

Pastry chef and head cake decorator Kelly Oliver said 10 whole slabs of mudcake were covered in chocolate ganache and then a layer of white icing which was airbrushed with edible paint.

She had two helpers on the 20-hour project, which also involved researching the shape and size of the buildings, and sourcing historic photographs reproduced on the surface.

It was the biggest, most detailed and most challenging cake she had worked on in her four years at Chocolate Velvet, where she had begun her career making sandwiches, Ms Oliver said.

"It was bit of a mission getting it here," she said.


Nelson Airport manager Kaye McNabb was joined by former Tahunanui resident June Spencer to cut the cake at the end of the formal part of the day. Ms Spencer was chosen because as an 8-year-old she had walked with her father from their Muritai St home to attend the airport's opening.

The community day ran from 10am to 4pm and proved a popular drawcard in spite of a wet and windy beginning.

There were static displays of a variety of aircraft, flying displays and flyovers and entertainment from the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band, Whatukura Kapa Haka Group and the Rebecca Bignall Academy of Dance.

The airport company presented giant $75,000 cheques to its two shareholders, the Nelson City and Tasman District councils as a special extra commemoration of the day, which also launched the new history The Story of Nelson Aviation, by Richard Waugh and Graeme McConnell.

Speaking at midday when the weather had begun to improve, Nelson Airport Ltd chairman Paul Steere said the organisers had been a bit apprehensive about the turnout but were very pleased by the large crowd.

"It's a bit of a Nelson spirit thing - they do get behind these things well, they do have a bit of an ownership of the airport, which is great to see, and we're really delighted that having organised these things, people have come out and enjoyed them."

Mr Steere said a lot of work had gone into the day over 18 months and he wanted to give "big kudos" to MarketingPartners who had done a great organising job.

He said the extra dividend was added to the $500,000 shared between the two councils in June as a special top-up. "It's an exceptional one for this year."

The company had to balance being financially viable and sustainable without having to call on shareholders for funding, "as many other airports do", and to meet the region's growth "so that people continue to have a good experience", Mr Steere said.

TV One weatherman and aviation enthusiast Jim Hickey address the young people in the giant airport hanger.

He said his father had flown to Nelson Airport during World War II during fighter pilot training. "If he came here today he'd probably think he'd be in a different place. Many of you younger people here will probably be here in 25 years from now celebrating 100 years of Nelson Airport. It will probably be unrecognisable then too."

Mr Hickey suggested there would be hotels, restaurants, conference facilities, retailers and entertainment complexes at the airport, "and jet aircraft bringing people to and from the region".

Nelson MP Nick Smith said he had probably been one of the airport's most frequent customers over the past 25 years.

"If I travel to Invercargill or Rotorua and other provincial airports, the debate in those communities is about the gazillions of dollars the ratepayers have had to put into subsiding and maintaining their airport, rather than the fortunate position we are in in this community, where our airport company provides a dividend for both of our councils."

Dr Smith said Nelson Airport had repeatedly won the title of best airport in New Zealand.

"That is in my view because it's small, it's friendly, it's a place where we meet as in historical times people met at railways, and they have pitched it right, not trying to attract international flights as some airports have done, but focused on being New Zealand's very best provincial airport."