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Fiordland aircraft impact study in need of a research programme

Photo: The Ngapunatoru Plateau. By Derek Grzlewski

NZAC is calling on the Department of Conservation to come clean on its decision to allow an 8-fold increase in aircraft landings in a remote part of Fiordland National Park on the grounds of it being a ‘trial’. Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) and NZAC recently issued the following statement on this issue:

FMC and the New Zealand Alpine Club (the largest member club of FMC) state that they remain deeply disappointed in the Department of Conservation’s performance and communication over the so-called ‘trial’ of increased landings on the Ngapunatoru Ice Plateau, in the Darran Mountains, near Mt Tutuko and Milford Sound. Two recent Official Information Act requests, along with previous communication and other requests have confirmed the following:

  • The set of rules for Fiordland – the current Fiordland National Park Management Plan – authorises up to 10 landings on the Ngapunatoru Plateau per day.
  • Because the aircraft provisions of the management plan have never been enacted by the Department of Conservation, there are between 20-30 landings per day on the Plateau at the height of summer.
  • As part of the so-called trial, DOC has increased the number of allowable landings to 80 per day, distributed amongst 8 existing operators. This ‘trial’ is for 2/3 years.
  • This trial was approved and authorised behind closed-doors, without fair public process. FMC believes that this decision was unlawful and unfair, and will ask the Ombudsman to investigate.
  • Further discussions with the Department of Conservation have revealed a chain of miscommunication and ‘siloed’ decision-making. A reason cited for the trial and the closed-door decision was the need for a fast decision. However, at the time of writing, it is still not even clear if the concessions to authorise the new level of landings have even been approved, some eight months on.
  • Furthermore, there is no clear research programme that meets any reasonable definition of “research”. GPS monitoring is now a mandatory requirement of the concessions, after hard questioning from FMC earlier revealed that it wasn’t, but there are no other aspects to the programme that constitute ‘research’, such as determining base-line conditions or peer review.
  • An Ombudsman ruling would give an independent report of the fairness and lawfulness of DOC’s actions. In a previous ruling, the Ombudsman described a similar DOC decision-making processes as “nonsense on stilts”. FMC and NZAC believe that this is similar nonsense.

In the interests of transparency, NZAC is asking DOC to make the following information available to all stakeholders immediately:

– the scope and purpose of the trial

– the measurements that will be taken, at which locations, and by whom

– details of the methods to be used

– the expected application of the results, especially in relation to the management of National Parks

– an analysis of how the recently permitted increases in landings on Ngapunatoro Plateau are being used to inform the trial

– progress with an integrated policy on air access in National Parks


The Ngapunatoru Plateau is located in the Darrans Remote Setting in the plan. The current plan states that that this Setting will be managed primarily for the remote climbing opportunities it provides and to protect its remote rock climbing and alpine climbing opportunities, quiet atmosphere and wilderness characteristics.

Post your perspective on the Aircraft Access in National Parks forum here.

–NZAC Recreational Access Committee

Posted: 25/11/16

Posted By: Kester Brown