Recently a pamphlet was dropped to residents in Bonny Hills, from a small group of residents, calling themselves “Friends of the Headland”, requesting people to attend a meeting of the Bonny Hills Progress Association to protest about Paragliding in Bartlett’s Beach reserve. Also it suggested objectors contact all PMHC councilors and the local MHR with their concerns. In the pamphlet and in a recent letter to another local paper, there were many allegations which are scurrilous, and in the most part untrue and at best ill-informed and exaggerated.
The concerns expressed in the pamphlet should not form any basis for complaint to the PMHC regarding flying at Bartlett’s Beach Reserve, because they are frivolous. Complaints some have made to CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) have been addressed adequately by that body and the group has been informed about the conditions under which we fly, which take into important consideration public safety. At a public meeting of the Bonny Hills Progress Association a few years ago there was overwhelming support for paragliding by the residents of Bonny Hills.
There is no need for the harassment that has been a feature of the past 12 months. We have experienced individual/s obstructing the take-off area with a star picket, a steel pole removed from another part of the reserve and even sitting in the direct line we take to launch. This latter practice is foolish in the extreme and could not lead to mutual understanding. There has even been an incident when a local has assaulted a highly respected pilot in our community. As a matter of interest this latter pilot is a world class pilot with winning credentials in the USA during the last season there. Incidentally he, the pilot attacked, is a mild mannered individual who would never “ lose his cool “ unless physically provoked.
I would like to provide the community with a more informed perspective from within the local paragliding community. I have been a member of the local flying community since I took up the sport here just under 7 years ago, and have never been with a group of more dedicated and friendly men and women in any sport. Always willing to talk about their passion to all and sundry and should those who object to any aspect of our flying wish to find out the facts they are welcome to discuss the subject with us.
The principal flying locations in the local area are Bartlett’s Beach Reserve, Grants Beach headland, and North Brother Mountain. These three locations provide ideal conditions for flying but are flown under different wind conditions. Laurieton residents and certainly visitors to the North Brother lookout are delighted by these colourful aircraft taking off there and soaring or turning in thermal updrafts, roughly akin to the eagles and pelicans which use the same air. Residents will note that it is only when conditions are perfect for this type of flying that the paragliders (and the occasional hang gliders) turn out in force. If the wind is too strong or from the wrong direction it becomes unsafe to take off. If the wind is just slightly stronger it is likely that conditions at Bartlett’s Beach Reserve may be more suitable for coastal soaring. In the summer months the on-shore winds are commonly suitable for flying at Bartlett’s but not at North Brother. In different weather we also fly from other suitable sites within about 100 klm of Laurieton, (often on the Port Macquarie sea front) and the people we meet are always
welcoming when we “drop in”. It is not uncommon for friendly locals to offer a beverage and cake or biscuits to a pilot just landed in their open paddock.
Foot-launch flying by hang gliders and paragliders has been a feature in the Laurieton district for some thirty years, bringing much to the district in the way of rate payments and state taxes by residents, accommodation and meals by visitors and other sundries like purchases from the specialty shops and service stations in town. I and a number of other pilots now own residences in the local area because of the excellent flying opportunities afforded here. We have seen many visitors over the years from intra-, interstate and from overseas. Quite often these visitors stay in the local caravan parks for weeks at a time.
The sport may be classified as an extreme sport, but I would like to point out that it is subject to strict regulations by CASA and directives by the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia (HGFA). All pilots must be licenced after completing a course of instruction by a certified instructor. Laurieton district is the home to a two paragliding schools and students complete their courses here each couple of weeks during the flying season from about September to May. Before being issued a licence by the HGFA the pilot is required to demonstrate practical proficiency in flying and a good knowledge of the rules and regulations as well as some aeronautics and meteorology. Their flying during the student period is controlled by the instructor by two way radio communication until the student demonstrates he can handle a safe flight by himself. After obtaining the license a novice is assisted/ monitored by more advanced pilots. Each local club appoints safety officers to oversee flying sites whenever possible. In the case of the Laurieton area the safety officers are also certified flying instructors who have hundreds of hours of flying and superior skills in the sport.
A normal take-off and landing is done into wind and as a result the speed relative to the ground is very low and mostly achieved by the pilot moving towards the prevailing wind direction. Landings are precise, into wind and low speed even in still conditions (and down to zero typically, when there is wind) and always are controlled to the extent that the pilots should be able to avoid obstacles and certainly persons on the ground.
I have gone into the detail above to address the concerns for public safety which have been expressed in the pamphlet dropped in Bonny Hills. As far as I am aware the “near misses” described in the pamphlet are by and large a figment of the objectors’ imaginations, one description being of a near miss of “centimetres” implying less than a metre. During this past thirty years or so I am not aware that there has been a single incident where a member of the public has been injured due to a collision initiated by a paraglider or hang glider. Our public safety record is unblemished and I would like to point out that licenced pilots have considerable Third Party Indemnity for which we each pay an annual fee to the HGFA.