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Council firm on hot air balloon ban

Following a packed-out Hood Users Group [HUG] meeting last week, Masterton District Council [MDC] has said it will “reflect” – but not back down – on its decision to prohibit non-festival hot air ballooning at Hood Aerodrome.

HUG chair John McMullan said he’d “never seen a turnout like this before” at the 7pm start of last Wednesday’s meeting, which was attended by Hood users, council staff, councillors, and Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] director Keith Manch.

The meeting, which went until almost 11pm, included a lengthy discussion on the council’s decision to ban ballooning,

Many members raised concerns about the ban and the council’s health and safety processes in general, leading MDC staff member Corin Haines to say after the meeting that – although it will maintain the ban – the council will reflect on the points raised at the meeting as it “continues to strive for a strong safety culture at the aerodrome”.

One Hood user asked Manch what he thought about the ballooning prohibition, which has left prospective operator Michael Shouse unable to complete a hangar purchase.

“We’ve got an operator here who’s being crucified for wanting to fly his balloon,” the attendee said.

But Manch said the ban was a decision for MDC, not for the CAA.

“We don’t decide what activity is done here; we’re just here to make sure whatever activities are done here are done safely,” Manch said.

Many users voiced concerns about MDC staff’s lack of communication and cooperation with operators regarding health and safety, and aerodrome development.

Regarding the balloon ban, several people said they were unhappy with council staff’s lack of engagement with knowledgeable operators.

In May, after errors of fact were discovered in the initial ballooning risk assessment written by MDC staff, Hood Safety Group members who have significant health and safety expertise wrote a second risk assessment.

This assessment did not call for a ballooning ban, but instead listed ways to mitigate the activity’s potential risks.

But after weeks of deliberation, MDC opted not to accept those mitigations and instead stood by its initial prohibition.

Haines said MDC agreed with CAA’s description of Hood as a “complex” aviation environment.

At the meeting, Councillor Tom Hullena said that the health and safety culture of the aerodrome relies on open communication between Hood users and council staff.

“It appears to me that’s not working,” he said.

“This place is at risk because these parties aren’t working together.”

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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