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Plane crash fears as pilots leave weather service

Published: 6:52PM Saturday August 27, 2011 Source: ONE News

Aviation groups are concerned about a possible increased risk of small plane crashes after a dramatic fall in the number of pilots signed up for specialist weather forecasts.

From the beginning of August recreational pilots will have to pay for the forecasts after the Civil Aviation Authority pulled its funding for the service.

As a result the aviation forecast Metflight has gone from having 5000 subscribers to 277.

Pilots only need to find $100 a year to pay for the service, but many say they won't subscribe.

"It's a matter of principle from my perspective, I consider as a taxpayer I'm already funding the government to supply those services," Evan Wheeler, a recreational pilot said.

"The cost of flying is increasing all the time and it's getting beyond the pocket of a lot of retired pilots, and younger people not wanting to get into the industry or recreation because of the sheer cost."

Wheeler said he's now relying on more general forecasts to predict the weather before he flies.

Weather is a factor in one in five air accidents and aviation groups have already warned against using general forecasts for flying.

Don Ryder, from the New Zealand Aviation Federation said the investment into the service is a small price to pay and urges pilots to reconsider their position.

"You know you look at the costs of search and rescue exercises and they run into millions straight away and here we are talking about tens of thousands of dollars to contribute towards an important safety issue to avoid this sort of thing."

The Civil Aviation Authority believes more pilots will subscribe as summer approaches.

"I find it surprising that people are willing to fly around in a quarter million dollar aircraft and not be willing to meet their safety responsibilities, and pay $100 a year to get a very very good MET product," Bill Sommer of the Civil Aviation Authority said.

ONE News asked MetService whether it will increase its fee if more pilots don't sign up, to cover the $8000 a month it says it costs to provide the service.

It says it'll review the situation early next year.