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Hood Aerodrome: Grounded but not giving up

Masterton District Council [MDC] has declared that its “final position” is that hot air balloons will not fly at Hood Aerodrome except as part of the balloon festival.

The decision was made last Tuesday after the council deliberated for three weeks on a risk assessment produced by members of the Hood Safety Group.

When balloonist Michael Shouse applied for a hangar ground lease at the aerodrome five months ago, MDC agreed to grant the lease only if he agreed not to fly his balloon – a prohibition backed by the council’s risk assessment, which found that ballooning poses several “extreme risks”.

Shouse, a retired aviation professional who used to work for the Civil Aviation Authority [CAA], was unhappy with the quality of the council’s ballooning risk assessment.

It contained errors of fact, including saying that Shouse had proposed to operate his balloon under “Civil Aviation Rule Part 115,” a law that controls commercial ballooning operations.

In fact, Shouse did not mention wanting to operate his balloon commercially in his lease application because he intended to fly it for recreation, so part 115 was irrelevant.

The assessment also referred to a “significant occurrence” in 2019, when balloons landed on the runway while a Life Flight aircraft was attempting to land.

This “significant occurrence” was used in the risk assessment as evidence that balloons pose an “extremely high risk” of obstructing the runway.

The incident report for this “significant occurrence” has since been obtained from the CAA under the Official Information Act, revealing that the CAA actually categorised it as a “minor incident” and, therefore, never investigated it.

Although the council has never commented publicly about the quality of its initial risk assessment, it agreed to consider a risk assessment of ballooning that was submitted to MDC at a meeting in May by Hood operators who are members of the safety group.

MDC community facilities manager Corin Haines said that, after the May meeting, there was “broader council consideration of the matter” but, ultimately, its position on ballooning remained unchanged.

In a letter to Shouse, Haines said the risk assessment written by the Hood Safety Group identified several mitigations to safety concerns but MDC is still uncomfortable with the increased risk posed by regular ballooning.

“I understand that this is not the outcome you were hoping for, but it is our final position,” he wrote.

Shouse, however, insists it isn’t over yet.

“The council might think this position is final for them; well, it’s not final for me.”

Shouse said he is now engaging in “next steps” but declined to elaborate.

Hood Users Group chair John McMullan said many airfield users are “extremely unhappy and angry” about the council not budging on its ballooning position.

“The council was forced to consult with the Hood Safety Group about that initial risk assessment which contained factual errors, but it looks like that consultation was a complete waste of time,” McMullan said.

“You’ve got to wonder how much they’ve spent on lawyers fighting Mike [Shouse] on this thing.

“This is just the latest example of poor engagement between the council and Hood users.”

This Wednesday, the Hood Users Group has a regular quarterly meeting that council staff will attend.

Unusually, the director of the CAA will also attend as part of a roadshow of regional airfields, and, at this meeting, ballooning is on the agenda.

    The Hood Users Group public meeting is at the aerodrome at 7pm tonight.

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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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