The Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground’s cold weather vehicle testing facility on the Pisa Range is open and optimistic about 2021.

Wanaka Top Flights chief pilot Sue Kronfeld is flying, although the company has sold five of its eight planes and reduced staff from 14 to three.

Gerald Telford’s international hunting and fishing business ground to a halt last year, forcing him to find other jobs.

Adventure Consultants operators Guy Cotter and Suze Kelly are looking at the possibility of relaunching their business next year.

Proving ground chief financial officer Murray Chamberlain, of Christchurch, said the facility’s customers were granted entry into New Zealand to test vehicles last year and this year.

“Customers that were happy to travel last year were able to successfully complete their test programmes. The demand for our facilities in 2021 gives us great confidence that our business is quickly returning to pre-Covid levels,” Mr Chamberlain said.

Mr Telford said Australian anglers had not returned in droves and North American clients have not returned at all.

Clients were still inquiring but with border closures he could not answer questions nor make business decisions.

While relieved that clients wanted to return, Mr Telford was worried whether animals would still be there.

He estimated it could take at least two years to rebuild the business, once hunters returned.

When guiding picked up, he would probably be ready to retire anyway, Mr Telford (62) said.

“I regret getting too focused on one market. We put ourselves out of reach of the domestic market.”

Mr Telford’s wife Sue Kronfeld has been at the heart of Wanaka’s general aviation industry for 30 years and is the chief executive and chief pilot for Wanaka Top Flights, recently purchased by Chinese interests from former owner Peter Hendricks.

Ms Kronfeld said the business had worked its way back up to a flexible, five-days-a-week operation, offering several flight products, but mainly surviving on flight training.

There was a market of Kiwis wanting a private licence. She has about 40 students on the books, 15 of who are actively pursuing qualifications.

The company is also working with Mt Aspiring College aviation pupils.

Despite piloting not being a great career choice, a few were optimistically planning for when airlines began hiring, she said.

Others students had returned to New Zealand and were converting licences or finishing commercial licences.

Students were mainly employed, middle-aged and waiting for borders to reopen to travel.

“A top-notch Covid day was four flying lessons, two adventure aviation activities and one flight to Milford. Pre-Covid, we would have six aircraft doing adventure aviation, one aircraft going to Mt Cook or Milford, and one aircraft doing flight training,” she said.

“At the moment, we are just flatlining it .. At least we can now look to December. We were just looking month to month.”

Adventure Consultants operators Guy Cotter and Suze Kelly have laid off their staff and relinquished their downtown Wanaka premises.

The couple are working from home and raising awareness of the suffering in Nepal as Covid-19 sweeps through Mt Everest Base Camp and remote villages.

They aim to reopen next year but have not made major operating decisions.

They do not intend a quick return to Nepal and do not know how long it will be before they do.

“As far as the Everest side of things go, we have always maintained we will return when things have recovered and there is no risk to everybody,” Mr Cotter said.

“It has been a stressful year-and-a-half. For us to build up the whole operation, we need to see New Zealand and international work coming back on stream. We are hopeful things will pick up and as more travel bubbles open we will be able to increase our activities.”

Ms Kelly said it would be daunting to start again, after losing administration staff and their knowledge and expertise.

“To build it to run as it was will take some doing. There is a lot to do. During this time of hibernation we are thinking about different models [for business],” she said.