On page 25 in this issue of The Informer you will read an article titled Role Reversal by Tony Stickley. It is about a graduate, of the Plane Build programme at MBAS (Mercury Bay Area School) which is unique to a New Zealand school. That graduate is now testing pilots who need to renew their licences.
We have the only school in the country that teaches and involves students in this programme that actually builds a plane - students do the building, learn the physics of flying, the engineering of a aircraft’s construction and have the opportunity to learn to fly.
All this was made possible by local pilots and aero club members who want to pass on their love of flying and so are committed to their community. Leigh Hopper, of The Waterways development, and also a local, has paid for the cost of the plane build kit. Ironically, we don’t have an airport with a sealed runway.
Since last week’s front page feature by Suzanne Hansen, ‘Sealed Runway Urgent’, it simply hasn’t stopped raining. As this goes to print, the runway has been closed, and the key roads leading in and out of Whitianga, are impassable. Grant Bacon, CEO of Barrier Air, was quoted “….the last couple of weeks has categorically proved …the need for a weather proof runway has never been more important.” Well, degrees of ‘extra important and even more urgent” need to be added to that.
In this last few days, the main artery, SH25 to and from Auckland and Thames to Mercury Bay and vis versa, has totally collapsed at Kopu Hikuai and the work for Waka Kotahi (Transit New Zealand) to repair this properly is several months if not a year. It is not a one-way situation with ‘Road closed from 7.00pm to 7.00am;’ the main arterial road is totally closed.
This is a serious body blow, economically and socially, for regular food deliveries, all freight services, medical appointments, medical emergencies, family visits, holiday makers, tourists.
There has been strong response to the article on last week’s front page. The community is optimistic at the thought of a sealed runway.
But there is an important aspect of the Whitianga Airfield that maybe be another unique consideration in New Zealand. This was referred to in last week’s article – that the airport is privately owned by Mercury Bay Aero Club Inc. Here is some relevant information provided by Murray MCLean, former Deputy Mayor, and National MP as well as Thames Coromandel District Councillor.
“When John Stephenson was President of the Aero Club, he had drawn up a Trust document for the Aero Club and Council to work together.”says Murray. “This would enable external funding to come in. It was recognised by both parties that the Aero Club owns it as private land but that it has always been recognised by the community as a facility for the community. Such a Trust would make it possible to develop the airport - by providing external funding for a facility used a lot by the public. At the time it didn’t carry, but it is time that talks were held again along this line. Now, when most recognise the Airport as a strategic asset, privately owned, but accessed by and available to the wider community, something can be done,” says Murray. “No one disputes that the cost of a sealed runway will be very significant. In the past, there was ‘exclusion’ thinking - the airstrip was for Aero Club members and their aircraft. But that thinking has moved on.” Yes, this airport is unique to New Zealand and let it remain so, but with external funding to develop the runways. Murray adds, “I think it is magnificent that we have got Barrier Air flying in to Mercury Bay.”
Caption: Barrier Air at Whitianga Airport.