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Balloonist grounded

Tensions are high at Hood Aerodrome, with claims that regulatory gridlock caused by a risk-averse Masterton District Council [MDC] might result in a million-dollar aircraft investment flying out the door.

The Hood Aerodrome Safety Committee met with MDC staff yesterday afternoon to discuss the council’s decision to restrict hot-air ballooning using a commercial lease agreement.

Controversially among Hood users, the council has tried to use a commercial lease agreement to prohibit one specific operator from flying balloons from the site, rather than making a blanket restriction on the activity.

The lease applicant, Michael Shouse, began the process of purchasing a hangar in December last year.

He planned to bring two planes and a balloon, worth $1.25 million, from the United States to store them in the hangar and fly them from the aerodrome – bringing lots of work for other businesses at Hood.

The hangar is on leased council land and, when Shouse tried to sign off on his ground lease, the council said his application would only be accepted if he agreed not to launch or land his balloon at the facility.

By signing the lease, Shouse – and only Shouse – would be prohibited from flying a balloon from Hood.

MDC community facilities and activities manager Corin Haines has defended the council’s actions, saying that a lease agreement is an appropriate tool for restricting ballooning.

“It is normal to add safety requirements to a lease. It is an appropriate tool when considering new arrivals and new operations on the aerodrome,” Haines said.

Shouse – who flew his balloon out of Hood regularly from 2007 to 2018 – has worked his whole life in the aviation business: Managing commercial aerodromes, operating balloons, and working 12 years at the Civil Aviation Authority [CAA], where he was the sole subject matter expert on ballooning.

“I’ve turned 70, and I just want to enjoy my aeroplanes and my balloon,” he told the Times-Age.

“This business decision has been hanging in the air since January and, eventually, the vendor [selling the hangar] will just give up and sell to somebody else.

“I’m bringing a $1.25m investment in the aerodrome, and the council is boohooing me out the door,” he said.

Shouse said that if he can obtain the lease without a prohibition on ballooning, he would buy the hangar building immediately and continue to fight the operational ban in the future, but time is running out – the sales and purchase agreement for the hangar expires next week.

Last Friday, the council released a risk assessment document explaining its decision to prohibit Shouse from flying balloons from the aerodrome if he signs the hangar lease.

The document stated that hot air balloons posed an extremely high risk of infringing on the sealed runway [during inflation] and adding complexity to the airspace.

Shouse said he intended to launch his balloon at sunrise when few other aircraft would be operating.

“The absurdity of this situation is that I operated my balloon from Hood for 12 years without incident or issue.”

The Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] said that all aircraft [including balloons] are safe when operating within their rules and procedures, regardless of type.

The CAA said it is aware of the situation at Hood Aerodrome but is not involved in any of the decision-making, and would not intervene in any decisions made by an aerodrome operator in the interests of safety.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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