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Chopper pilots challenge Conservation Board over noise

Chopper pilots challenge Conservation Board over noise complaints

Helicopter pilot Matt Newton and his daughter Lillian. Photo: Lois Williams

A West Coast tourism company says restricting flights over wild country could put it out of business.

The owner of Hokitika's Precision Helicopters Matt Newton and his daughter Lillian, a newly-qualified chopper pilot, turned up to speak at this week's meeting of the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board.

Mr Newton said he was alarmed by recent comments from the board chairman Dr Keith Morfett, about the increase in air traffic over the Hokitika backcountry, and complaints from trampers and climbers in many areas about the growing noise nuisance.

"I read in the Grey Star about these calls to restrict flights ...I 'd never heard of a Conservation Board and it was disturbing to hear this."

Mr Newton said he came to the West Coast from Taranaki last year to set up a helicopter tourism business, after work in the oil and gas industry business fell off.

"We got consent to set up our base in the Hokitika Gorge, spent a lot of money and Lillian's just got her commercial pilot's license," Mr Newton said.

He had seen only four helicopters, one plane and a handful of people in the backcountry in that time.

"We have a deal with DOC: we keep away from huts and tracks and places where there are people and look for other landing spots if we see any. We don't go roaring around disturbing people, so where do these complaints come from?"

Board member Barry Hughes said the Conservation Board was not seeking to stop Mr Newton flying, but it was interested in trying to maintain a balance so that people could enjoy the wilderness in silence.

"I have had direct comments from many people who use the mountains and say it used to be quiet, but no longer (is)."

Mr Newton said the people he ferried to the mountains were often people who would no longer be able to get there under their own steam.

"You can get up to the Williamson Glacier when you're young, but how else are you going to get up there when you're 70?" he said.

"Older people have a right to be able to get up there and enjoy the silence too ... they stay for days, some of them."

Dr Morfett said the board had had comments from across the region from outdoor recreational groups about the spread of aviation into places that used to be quiet.

"This is an ongoing discussion, and we will be focusing on the air traffic issue at our next meeting in Franz Josef in February," he said.

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