Crops endanger flyers - Airport manager not aviation savvy – claim

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Aviators Michel Verhagen and Terry Rogers say neither maize nor unkempt grass is suitable as a runway verge.

Photo Sven Carlsson OB1956-03

Sven Carlsson

A MISMATCH between Opotiki District Council officers’ ideas of the Opotiki Aerodrome and that of aviation users was revealed during a council meeting on Monday morning.
Opotiki Aero Club vice president Michel Verhagen and former club secretary Terry Rogers attended the audit and risk committee meeting held in council chambers at 9.30am on Monday.
The meeting was chaired by councillor Arihia Tuoro.
Mr Verhagen commented on a report – Review of Opotiki Aerodrome – written by community facilities manager Mike Houghton.
In this role, Mr Houghton is also the airport manager.
Mr Verhagen started by saying the aero club had been given very little time in which to provide comment on the council report.
Ms Tuoro asked if the club was asking for more time to provide additional comments and Mr Verhagen said yes, the club would like more time to provide commentary.
Reading from a typed document, Mr Verhagen said the misunderstandings listed in his two-page document resulted from “the fact that the current airport manager has no affinity with, or knowledge, of aviation”.
One of the issues discussed was the planting of maize instead of grass on the aerodrome property.
Mr Verhagen said wind blowing across a maize field would produced turbulence and was therefore dangerous for aviation.
Mr Rogers said that before maize was planted, the grass in those areas could be mowed to requirement, in case a cross runway was needed.
Mr Verhagen said there was little difference in income between maize and grass being grown at the aerodrome and the council ought to view it as an asset for which even more uses could be found.

At this point mayor John Forbes asked why the aerodrome could not stand on its own feet financially, just like the golf club did.
Mr Verhagen reiterated that the aerodrome was a community asset, saying that if the runways were mowed appropriately, a big Hercules plane could land and take off there during an emergency.
“You can evacuate a lot more people in a Hercules than in a helicopter,” he said.
Mr Forbes then said that in an earthquake, the runway would probably shift anyway, rendering it useless.
After a short debate between Mr Forbes and Mr Verhagen, Ms Tuoro redirected the meeting.
Mr Rogers said that as a solution to safety requirements when visitors were walking about at the airport, Mr Houghton had suggested three UHF radios be bought, without knowing about the licensing and communication protocols for such radios.
“You can’t just buy one of those and start talking, they are not walkie-talkies,” he said.
Mr Rogers asked that the council’s mowing team should mow the runway, instead of the current holder of the cropping licence.
He said that farmers did not like to mow grass short, but that short grass was an essential requirement for runway safety.
He said he was mowing the middle of the runway himself.
Independent audit and risk committee member David Love said that if the council provided a service it needed to “take care” around health and safety issues.
Ms Tuoro said council staff member Tina Gedson had been appointed property officer and that aviation users should from now on communicate with her in the first instance.
It was hoped this would alleviate any communication problems.
Mr Houghton said the report he had written was an “iterative document” and that feedback from the meeting would be incorporated into it.
Ms Tuoro said that as a result of the meeting, health-and-safety issues pertaining to the aerodrome would be further reviewed.

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