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Mid Canterbury Aero Club president Graham Closey (left) and fellow club member and veteran flyer Keith Pickford at Ashburton Airport.

Mid Canterbury Aero Club is sitting pretty at Ashburton Airport with new clubrooms and a new hangar added over the last three years.

The club is self-sufficient and prides itself on being very sociable.

Members number 130 and range from teenagers through to veteran aviators in their 80s.

There are currently around 20 active flying students.

Club president Graham Closey says tight operating margins are normal for most aero clubs.

“We get most of income these days from growing lucerne on the airfield grounds, which helps fund upgrades like the new hangar we built in 2018.”

The previous hangar was built in 1928 and was pretty shabby, he said.

Another big boost for the club was securing and relocating the former Ashburton i-Site building to the airfield in late 2020.

“It was major coup for us and for the last 12 months we’ve had a modern, welcoming and airy club rooms for members and visitors.

“We did some reconfiguring of the building and relied on volunteer goodwill to do the work, but the end result is just terrific.”

Covid has delayed things and landscaping is next on the club’s radar.

The aero club operates three four-seater Piper Cherokees and a two-seater microlight, all older aircraft.

There are two employees, led by chief flying instructor Joe Brown.

Club money also goes into an engine replacement fund.

Training engines need to be replaced every 2000 hours and the cost of that is about $50,000, Mr Closey says.

An engine is shortly due to be replaced.

Mr Closey said Ashburton Airport continued to be a popular recreational flying destination and there was room for capacity and hangar numbers to increase.

The club welcomed an airfield plan being developed by Ashburton District Council with stakeholders that looked to the future and the next 30 years.

“The council wants to make the airfield operation cost neutral and, in general, we see more hangars and other possible developments as good for flyers and good for Ashburton.”

Mr Closey did his first trial flight as 13-year-old nearly 20 years ago.

Fellow club member Keith Pickford has been a flyer for the last 55 years and says the aero club is ahead of where it expected to be.

“Things are ticking over well for the club and we’re ahead of our dreams.

“The new hangar was a must do project for us and we’ve ticked it off and now we’ve got great new clubrooms as well.”

There had been recent power and ater upgrades at the airfield, there was good security, good fuel supplies and an on-site aircraft engineer, Mr Pickford said.

Ashburton Airport’s four grass runways, two long ones and two short, have been mowed and maintained by the aero club for many years and provide another income source.

-By Mick Jensen