Wigram air traffic to end

01:43, Jan 31 2009
MIGRATING: Brian Gilmour, of the Southern DC3 Charitable Trust, with the DC3 aircraft that is shifting its base to Ashburton because Wigram airfield will close in February.

Chocks away for ever.

More than 90 years of aviation history at Wigram, from World War 1 biplanes to modern skydiving, will end in February.

The 250ha airfield, which has been operating since 1916, will make way for about 2000 new houses.

Airfield owner Ngai Tahu Property sent a letter to all tenants this week informing them the airfield will close on February 28 after being closed to air traffic from September.

"While we appreciate the airfield closure may cause some distress to you, in particular those of you operating a commercial business, you have always been aware the airfield would eventually be closed," the letter said.

The closure means the last biennial air show will be held at the airfield in February, the New Zealand Flying School and SkydivingNZ.com will have to find a new home and DC3 flights will no longer take off from Wigram.

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New Zealand Flying School chief executive Steve Campbell said the closure was a "bitter disappointment". "I have got a team of staff here who are all very good and loyal. They have families to feed, and so potentially it is not a good situation to be in," he said.

"There is bitter disappointment and the word has got out to the aviation community across the country.

"It is very disappointing. We are talking about one of the birthplaces of aviation in New Zealand."

The Southern DC3 Charitable Trust, which runs flights on the historic DC3 for tourists, plans to move its plane to a custom-built hangar at the Ashburton Aviation Museum next month.

Chief executive Brian Gilmour said losing Wigram would mean a major income loss as the trust would no longer be able to run scenic flights for the thousands of cruise ship passengers who visit Christchurch every year.

Air Force Museum communications manager Dave Clearwater said the speed of the closure was surprising, and the museum would miss the drawcard of the airshow.

"The last airshow in its current form will be February next year. That is a significant loss for us because it is a crowd-puller, so we would be frustrated to see it go," he said.

Ngai Tahu Property chief executive Tony Sewell said the closure of the airfield was a decade in the planning and he had always dealt honestly with tenants.

"We have made no secret of the fact the airfield is going to close. We have been very honest with them."

Sewell said the history of the airfield would be kept alive in the housing development with appropriate street names and the retention of two historic concrete hangars and the art deco control tower building.

The Rangiora Airfield owner, the Waimakariri District Council, says it is not expecting a huge demand for the airfield's services after the closure of Wigram.

Community and recreation manager Craig Sargison said the closure could increase traffic at the airfield, particularly for fuel stops, but it was not expected to generate a sudden demand for hangar sites.

He said it was always known Wigram would eventually close and people had had time to plan for it.

"Some people have approached us about getting possible sites."

Wigram's demise would mean one less option for landing and taking off in Canterbury, which could make Rangiora busier.

Sargison said the sealing of the runway would be considered by the council during its discussion on its long-term plan this year.

He said there was plenty of room at the airfield to cope with demand.

A block of six hangars had just been finished to add to the 70 hangars at the airfield. Work was about to start on another eight, four more were planned and there was room for another 80 further down the runway, he said.

 

The Press