10 Mar 2020

Gliding firm's 'shock' closure: owner blames ill-suited regulations

2:09 pm on 10 March 2020

The owner of the country's only commercial glider flight operator is calling for better regulations as his business goes into insolvency, after being ordered to suspend operations.

Mt Benmore in the background

Glide Omarama can't afford $100,000 to get a new licence. Photo: Supplied / Glide Omarama

Glide Omarama was told to stop flights by the Civil Aviation Authority on Friday, saying it needs to re-certify from being a recreational aviation organisation, to an adventure aviation operation.

All instructors and pilots would also need to be re-licensed.

A CAA spokesperson said Glide Omarama had been offering paid flights described as trial flights, but the authority views these as adventure flights - and initially told the company last year.

But Glide Omarama owner Gavin Wills said countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, don't have such requirements for commercial gliders.

He said the cost of re-certification could cost up to $100,000, meaning it was unrealistic for a small operator such as Glide Omarama.

"It's a huge shock to the gliding community, but not just in New Zealand, the letters of support pouring in from around the world at the moment are extraordinary. And I hadn't realised just how many people were touched and so many different places," he said.

Wills said cancellations and refunds mean the company can't operate anymore, and 21 jobs will be lost.

The CAA said the certification - which comes under Part 115 of the Civil Aviation Rules - is in place to keep the public and tourists safe.

"This rule was first introduced in November 2011 to regulate the adventure aviation industry, and require operators to be certificated in much the same way as air transport operators," it said.

But Wills said gliders shouldn't be treated like other air transport operators, as they are not aircraft with engines.

He said Glide Omarama has been calling on regulations specific for gliders for a number of years, but the request appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

"We have been non-compliant because you [the CAA] haven't been able to come up with a certification system that fits gliding."

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Glide Omarama says companies such as theirs should have their own licensing regime. Photo: Supplied / Glide Omarama

Wills said the company already follows most of the requirements, and the only new thing it would have to do is random drug testing.

But at the end of the day, it cannot afford to apply for a re-certification and he said the 22-year business will be no more.

He also compared Glide Omarama's situation to paragliders, where the industry body can issue certificates.

"They should be allowed to issue certificates [from the industry association Gliding New Zealand], in the same way that commercial paraglider pilots, hang glider pilots and commercial parachuters are all allowed to operate on the commercial certificate issued by their industry association."

He said another obstacle was that all commercial glider pilots will also require the much more stringent class one medical certificates, whereas paragliders only require a class two medical.

Wills said the loss of Glide Omarama will be a huge loss to the international gliding community.

"We are primarily a soaring school, we have been teaching people to fly from all over the world, and we run trial flights to encourage people to do that," he said.