Rolling closures at Kāpiti Coast Airport will impact the safety of pilots and small aircraft who rely on it for safe harbour in poor weather and other events, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of NZ (AOPANZ).
Association president Steve Brown said the rolling closures raised unintended safety concerns and will impact pilots transiting through Cook Strait who use Omaka in Blenheim and Kāpiti Coast Airport in Paraparaumu as the staging points for their travel around the country.
"Although the rolling closures have been made with safety assumptions, it means pilots of light aircraft lose the flexibility to respond to changing conditions such as weather or fuel changes.
"The next nearest airport for fuel is Whanganui or Wellington - and landing at Wellington can be problematic as it's a major airport."
The hours of operation at the Kāpiti Coast Airport are restricted daily (until February 1) by airport owners NZPropCo, responding to staff shortages with AFIS (Aerodrome Flight Information Service) which is independently provided by Airways.
"At this time of year there is an increase in light aircraft travelling between the South and North Islands who rely on Kāpiti Coast Airport as a safety stop," Brown said.
"We are concerned about their safety in what can be fast-changing weather conditions.
"We would like to see the airport restrictions reviewed.
"Every other medium-sized airfield with a tower or AFIS reverts to 'G' airspace when the tower is not operational and can operate safely.
"We believe the same conditions can be applied at Kāpiti Coast Airport.
"AOPANZ sees the issue as a long-term one which needs a long-term solution and is part of the ongoing issue regarding the airports future."
Airport spokeswoman Dani Simpson said as Airways wasn't able to currently provide the usual coverage, the airport would close when AFIS wasn't on-watch, in line with the airport's exposition and its legal obligations relating to its operating certificate.
"As is standard practice, pilots should check NOTAMs [a notice to alert pilots of potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect their flight] regularly so they are aware of when Kāpiti Coast Airport is open and when the runway is closed when AFIS is not on-watch during the regular hours.
"Our airport exposition – essentially the rules we have to operate by – requires us legally to operate with AFIS during set times.
"Given we are promulgating the notices for closures via the appropriate official channels to enable pilots to factors these into their flight planning, any risk is a calculated one made by the individual pilot.
"Such risk, if it exists, is outside our control.
"It's important to note that all airports operate under the Civil Aviation Act.
"In the case of the Kāpiti Coast Airport, we operate under a Pt 139 Certificate which, after the three fatality crash over the aerodrome in 2008, requires us to have an AFIS service.
But Brown noted a Transport Accident Investigation Commission report ino the light plane and helicopter crash which said: "The absence of an air traffic control or information service on the aerodrome was not considered a significant factor, as the pilots were almost universally operating in accordance with visual flight rules where 'see and avoid' is the primary and final defence in avoiding a collision.
"Further, there had been no appreciable change in the rate of near misses or other traffic conflicts since the removal of a staffed air traffic service.
"But there may have been a general reluctance among pilots to report such incidents.
"Mid-air collisions are rare events.
"There was no evidence found in a review of New Zealand and international data that the risk of impact damage to property or people on the ground near aerodromes merits consideration of a specific response for Paraparaumu or elsewhere."
Simpson said the airport was "working with Airways to minimise as best we can any impact".
"Airways has done its best to cover all regular scheduled flights (ie Air Chathams and Sounds Air's schedules are not impacted) and to maximise flying hours for general aviation users such as the aero club members, whilst managing the workload of its staff members.
"By closing the airport for the short windows when AFIS is unavailable, we are not only meeting our legal obligations but ensuring the safety of the residents in the suburbs around the airport while there is reduced Airways support.
"We remain fully committed to safely operating its aerodrome in full compliance with our legal obligations."