Council accused of charging ‘illegal’ fee to pilots

Charging pilots a fee to approach a small North Island airfield is illegal, the head of Flying New Zealand says.

The $15 landing fee applies to pilots of light aircraft who approach the Matamata Aerodrome, even if they do not land.

The Matamata-Piako District Council owns and operates the aerodrome.

It said landing charges applied to all landings, plus touch-and-go manoeuvres, an approach and go-round, and a missed approach.

“A landing fee possibly isn’t the best name for the charge as it encompasses all types of movement at landing rates,” the council said in a statement.

The charge is a maximum of $15 per day, but $40 if it has to be invoiced in the event the fee is not paid on time.

“It works on the basis that if you are approaching, nobody else can, much like booking a hall,” the council said.

The council said it was entitled to charge the approach fee, to help with the cost of upkeep at the aerodrome for the benefit of all users.

Flying New Zealand represents aero clubs around the country. Its president Tony Page said the only time an approach fee could be charged was in controlled air space.

“It’s actually an illegal charge. It’s an uncontrolled airfield and no service is being provided to actually charge for.

“The local council in that area has no ownership of that air space – they can only charge for landing on the airfield they own and operate.”

The council says the Matamata Aerodrome is a local purpose reserve and landing fees are used for its upkeep, to benefit all users.

The Civil Aviation Authority said an aerodrome such as Matamata was authorised under the Airport Authorities Act to set such charges it sought fit for the use of the airport operated or managed by it, or the services or facilities associated with it.

Mr Page said it was normal to be charged an approach fee at a commercial airport monitored by air traffic control, but not an airfield which did not offer a guided landing services.

The owner and operator of a Golden Bay scenic flight company, Mit Brereton, said it was unprecedented.

“The council up there has decided that if you don’t even land – if you just approach the airfield, you’ll get charged.

“I don’t know of anywhere else in the world that charges you for just over-flying the airport, basically.”

Landing fees are common at small aerodromes around the country. Many rely on an “honesty box” system, where pilots put cash in an envelope that has the date and time of landing, plus the aircraft registration number.

The money is cleared regularly by the authority in charge of the airfield.

The Matamata-Piako District Council says pilots can pay through online banking, or through the honesty box. It uses a number of methods for collecting data on who is landing and who might be approaching, including recording radio transmissions, visual observation and camera imaging.

It said if a pilot failed to properly identify their aircraft in accordance with the CAA aviation regulations, the appropriate authorities would be advised. Pilots who don’t pay incur overdue charges could be banned from using the airfield, except in an emergency.

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