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Katoomba Airfield: public submissions invited

Higher flight levels, residential no-fly zones, a new enforceable Fly Neighbourly policy, “light footprint tourism’’, community charity events and a suite of green initiatives.

These are just some of the plans that new lessee FLYBLUE Management Pty Ltd has for Katoomba Airfield which are outlined in documents soon to be available on the industry.nsw.gov.au website of the Department of Industry (Crown Land and Water).

FLYBLUE voluntarily published their vision on flyblue.com.au following the department awarding the company a three-year commercial licence in February 2018.

While Katoomba Airfield had operated continuously since it opened on October 5, 1968, its runways fell into dangerous disrepair from 2016 when long-term lessee flying instructor Rod Hay died in a single engine plane crash in nearby scrub.

The level of disrepair resulted in FLYBLUE temporarily closing the airfield to fixed-wing aircraft except in emergencies, although helicopter operations including emergency services and Defence Force aircraft have continued to land and take-off there as usual.

FLYBLUE director Floyd Larsen said the recent decreased use of the airfield had led some people to believe it had closed.

“It hasn’t,’’ she said.

“In fact, its original purpose continues as it has done for the past fifty years.

“For example, Katoomba Airfield has provided an air `safety ramp’ for general aviation since it opened in 1968, and twice in the past 18 months (that we know of) aircraft have made emergency landings here.’’

A report to Blue Mountains Council on October 29, 1968, showed how the airfield was a long-time major part of the council’s tourism strategy, stating that it was established “to encourage tourists and visitors to fly to the Blue Mountains area’’.

(l-r) Floyd and Derek Larsen of FlyBlue Management Pty Ltd

“Joy flights are scheduled every Sunday at a cost of $3 per flight.

“This matter has been reported for information the Council’s Public Relations Department will include these features in future advertising of the area.’’

However, Mrs Larsen emphasised that Katoomba Airfield and FLYBLUE did not encourage or conduct “joy flights’’ (short low-flying swoops over populated or sensitive areas such as Echo Point, the Three Sisters, the Grose Valley or up the Grand Canyon).

Rather, they actively fostered “light footprint tourism’’ which had minimum negative impact on the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

FLYBLUE’s plan includes a new enforceable Fly Neighbourly policy with appropriate flight paths away from residential areas, operating hours and general use of the airfield with noise abatement procedures.

“While FLYBLUE can’t influence aircraft that originate from other airfields because they fall under the control of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), our new Fly Neighbourly policy already has the support of Blue Mountains Aviators Club and pilots who do not comply with our Fly Neighbourly policy will not be permitted to use Katoomba Airfield,’’ Mrs Larsen said.

“FLYBLUE will manage all aspects of the airfield, including noise abatement procedures, curfews and flight paths within an approved lease.

“However, we can assure the community that our Fly Neighbourly policy categorically bans flights over populated areas.’’

FLYBLUE had already begun restoration work on the 36ha site, located about 4km east of Medlow Bath.

Obsolete and dilapidated structures had been removed, along with abandoned waste materials and equipment.

Two new windsocks had been installed, along with a weather station and camera for use by general aviation (katoomba.skycam.net.au) and the site made more secure to prevent illegal access.

FLYBLUE plans to restore, protect and enhance the site including sealing the main airstrip and tackle weed invasion, soil erosion and other issues.

The environmental centrepiece would be a Greenfleet carbon offset program which would see one tree planted for every flight which left the airfield.

(l-r) Derek and Floyd Larsen

Mrs Larsen expected the airfield upgrades to help lure more tourism and overnight stays to the Blue Mountains including private plane owners who would stay in local hotels and B&Bs at least one night, visit attractions, dine in restaurants and shop – in line with Blue Mountains Council’s original intent for the airfield.

Other future plans included the installation of new hangars (subject to approval), community charity events, public aviation viewing areas and dedicating half the airfield to non-aviation uses such as bushwalking, a radio club, star gazers and RAAF cadet and school bivouacs.

A public exhibition period with dates to be confirmed but expected to be held in June and the airfield lease proposal displayed on the Department of Industry (Crown Land and Water) industry.nsw.gov.au website for at least 42 days.

Letters of support may be submitted to the NSW Government via a link on the website.

The department will hold public drop-in information sessions at Hotel Blue, Lurline St, Katoomba, from 11am to 1pm and 5pm to 7pm on June 19 and 25.

(l-r) Floyd and Derek Larsen