Masterton District Council [MDC] has come under fire from Hood Aerodrome users for allegedly stifling hot air ballooning.
The Hood Users Group [HUG], which represents aerodrome leaseholders, has “condemned MDC’s actions in the strongest terms” after the council told a hot air balloon operator their application for a hangar lease would only be accepted if they agreed not to launch or land their balloon at the facility.
HUG chair John McMullan said he is concerned MDC is inappropriately trying to control ballooning via a commercial land lease rather than using proper aviation legislation.
“Ballooning is a legal aeronautical activity. If the council wants to ban it at Hood, they should make it a blanket ban, not a condition of one person’s lease,” he said.
In McMullan’s opinion, preventing the leaseholder from flying their balloon is counterproductive to the airfield’s intent, promotion, and long-term viability.
MDC community facilities and activities manager Corin Haines said the council has decided “not to introduce ballooning as a regular activity at Hood,” citing safety concerns.
“Hood Aerodrome is a complex flying environment, with a range of aeronautical activities taking place, including WWI era aircraft, some without radios,” he said.
Hood users had a meeting to discuss the no-fly condition on the balloonist’s lease in March, which council staff did not attend, contrary to usual practice.
Haines said that a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act [LGOIMA] request relating to ballooning was received before the meeting, and so the decision was made not to go due to the possibility of subsequent legal action.
McMullan said members at the meeting were frustrated with the council’s approach to operating the airfield, and that the majority of members spoke of poor relationships with MDC.
“Concerns were expressed about MDC’s approach to operational issues, which are the responsibility and jurisdiction of the CAA,” he said.
“Word has spread within the New Zealand aviation community and industries that MDC is one of – if not the worst – council to deal with; things need to change,” he asserted.
In response to these claims, Haines iterated that MDC takes its safety obligations seriously.
“We work closely with operators and CAA to ensure safety remains paramount at all times,” he said.
McMullan met with council staff on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the concerns raised at the March meeting.
He said it is “a big plus” that the council is willing to engage with HUG about its concerns.