Near misses are a regular occurrence at Alexandra Airport as cyclists and runners play Russian roulette with their lives.
Unauthorised people have been seen up to “a few times a week” using the runway, causing concern for airport representatives and the Central Otago District Council.
One of the most recent incidents involved a mountain biker and a pedestrian who were seen crossing active runways.
Cyclists are supportive of efforts to create more awareness around the landing and takeoff of aircraft at the airport.
Mountain Bikers of Alexandra group president Joe Sherriff backs the campaign by the council and flying club members to better educate the community about access.
The group has a memorandum of understanding with the council, which allows members the use of a track around the perimeter of the airport’s operational areas.
Mr Sherriff said he understood the recent incident did not involve one of the group’s members.
He encourages all cyclists to “stick to the trails”.
“The track is well marked and signposted near the runway or operational areas.”
He said the group would possibly look at installing more track markers.
Central Otago Flying Club president Greg Foster said the person was not harmed in the close-call incident, but that was simply a case of luck and timing.
the club two-seater glider and [a] mountain biker rode straight across the runway at speed.”
He said the glider was airborne at about 50m and was starting to rotate into its steep climb.
“The winch driver saw the biker out the corner of his eye [and] slammed the brake on.”
At the same time, the glider pilot released the cable from the glider.
The cable was still 100mm above the grass as he crossed it.
Mr Foster said the incident had the potential to be fatal.
“The glider has a gross weight of around 610kg [and] the winch cable is travelling at around 120kmh. The cable is small-diameter braided wire and very taut, due to the weight of the glider.
“If the biker was only a few seconds later he would have been cut in half by the equivalent of a buzz saw.
“Or if the cable had hooked under the bike, he would have been flipped 50 or more metres into the air.
“So, very close to being dead.”
The incident was classified as a near miss, which meant injury or death could have occurred.
Mr Foster said the issue was not new, stating there had been runway incursions ever since the airport’s existence.
It was also a common occurrence at other airfields.
He said in previous years most of the incidents at Alexandra Airport involved people walking their dogs, but in more recent times cyclists have been a greater problem, despite there being plenty of tracks near the airport for them to use.
His message is clear.
“Don’t cross the runways.
“Please use the cycle tracks that skirt around the ends of the airport.”
Central Otago District Council property and facilities manager Garreth Robinson said work had been done to reduce access to operational areas by installing fencing and signage on the west side of the airport to keep vehicles out.
Security gates and additional signage had also been installed at access points to hangar and taxiway areas.
“Prior to these measures, there had been several incidents over the years.
“These included people driving on the runway, horse riders crossing over the runway, people exercising their dogs near the runway and people taking leisurely drives around the hangar precinct.”
He said the majority of people did use the airfield with respect.
Anyone caught not obeying the rules could be prosecuted by the Civil Aviation Authority or the council for trespassing.
Mr Robinson said the fine would then be decided by the courts.
“Of course, this is not likely to be the response for a one-off occurrence and education would be the first preferred action.”