1493520363774 - Aero club investigates highway landing strip to connect quake-hit communities

Aero club investigates highway landing strip to connect quake-hit communities

An aero club forced to cancel its service connecting quake-hit communities is devising ways to restore its flight path, with one option to transform State Highway 1 into a temporary tarmac.

Air Kaikoura Aero Club has bridged the slip between Kaikoura and Clarence by flying hundreds of passengers over the past three months.

The 15-minute flight prevents an eight-hour road detour, but the service has been cancelled indefinitely after two cyclonic weather systems flooded the private air strip at Parikawa, near Clarence.

Club manager Murray Hamilton said people were suffering without the service and he would like to explore the possibility of using passing lanes on SH1 as a landing strip.

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“The road is hardly being used,” he said.

“It’s very, very frustrating. We want to be able to provide this service for these people.”

Public traffic to the highway had fallen considerably since the November earthquake and a manned checkpoint at Clarence Bridge only allowed residents and authorised vehicles to continue further south.

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Landing on the highway, finding an alternate landing strip or upgrades to Parikawa were all options the club had considered in returning the flight path, Hamilton said.

The service had proved popular, with the club flying 175 times into Parikawa since December.

Families and workers had embraced the service which offered a round-trip between Kaikoura and Clarence for $180.

But the low-lying air strip remained water-logged from the heaviest rains the region had experienced in years and it was no longer possible to land, Hamilton said. 

“When it rains, the water has nowhere to go. It sits there like a pond,” he said.

“I knew as soon as it started to rain that we would have an issue.

“The long and straight of it is that there are not many areas to land safely that are available to us.”

Winter and likely rains would further complicate the continued use of Parikawa, Hamilton said.

The club, which was a not-for-profit society, had been offering the service at a discounted rate in an effort to assist those who were stranded by the earthquake, Hamilton said.

“For us it isn’t about making money from the service, it’s about providing it,” he said.

“Kaikoura is suffering big time. There is a lot of emotion down here.”

New Zealand Transport Agency earthquake recovery manager Steve Mutton said the organisation was working with the Clarence community and aero club representatives to help restore the service.

Funding was still under investigation, he said.

However, using the highway as an airstrip was not an idea the NZTA could support, Mutton said.

“These roads are public, being used by local residents and contractors, and the risks associated should be clear,” he said.

An engineer would look at each site under investigation to assist in a decision, Hamilton said.

In the meantime, Kaikoura Helicopter Services had introduced a replacement for the route.