Queenstown airport: improvements made since near miss

by Peter Newport - Jun 28, 2024

Queenstown airport's Chief Operating Officer Todd Grace has detailed changes that will reduce the risk of a helicopter near miss.

A report released yesterday (June 27) has found both Queenstown Airport's layout and departure procedures contributed to two helicopters coming too close to each other during takeoff in 2022.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission reported what one pilot had initially perceived to be an "evasive manoeuvre" had actually been "a standard turn on departure" instead.

The report details that on December 27, 2022 the two Airbus Helicopters - ZK IUP and ZK IDB - were cleared to depart the airport from the general aviation zone in the south of the location.

Although both the helicopters were cleared for departure there was confusion about the order in which they were doing so, resulting in them coming within 44 metres of each other in the air. 

Mr Grace has told Crux today: “Several operational safety improvements have been introduced at ZQN (Queenstown airport) since the time of the near miss incident.

"The Queenstown Airport Corporation has worked closely with Airways and operators and new procedures are in place.

"Previously Airways controlled helicopter traffic once it departed the general aviation area. Airways now manages the arrival and departure procedures of helicopters in the general aviation area. This change to procedure provides a significant increase in safety.

"In addition, a Master Plan for Queenstown Airport was approved late last year, and airfield development planning is now underway. This will enable the relocation of fixed wing and helicopter operators and further improve operational processes.”

Yesterday's report detailed concerns about helicopter operations at Queenstown.

"The Queenstown Aerodrome southern apron layout, requiring all helicopter movements to arrive and depart via the intersection of taxiways Bravo and Yankee, creates a bottleneck for helicopter operations.

"The congestion and visibility issues of helicopters operating at Queenstown Aerodrome have been identified by the Queenstown Milford User Group and Queenstown Airport Corporation."

The report also identified more general safety concerns, saying "At Queenstown Airport's Southern Apron, conflicts and collisions between uncontrolled aircraft are more likely because of the combination of the apron layout and management of aircraft flying into controlled airspace".

However, the commission itself has no recommendations for the airport as it says the Civil Aviation Authority and Airways, along other stakeholders, are already taking action to resolve the issues flagged by the report.

On their agenda is an improved departure procedure that will require a pilot to report having seen the preceding aircraft in the departure sequence prior to being cleared themselves for takeoff.

The helicopters involved in the incident were operated by Over the Top Helicopters and The Helicopter Line, and both the pilots were local.


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