New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has announced a $1.5m grant to Marlborough’s Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre as part of the Government’s Tourism Growth Partnership (TGP) Fund.
The grant has enabled the centre to give the green light on expansion plans, increasing display space by a third to incorporate a major new WWII aviation exhibition.
The exhibition will be built to the same acclaimed standard as the centre’s world-class Knights of the Sky exhibition, a display of Sir Peter Jackson’s collection of WWI aircraft and memorabilia, which has been an international drawcard for visitors to Marlborough including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Aircraft including a Hawker Hurricane, Avro Anson, Focke Wulf FW 190, Yakolev Yak 3, Stuka, and a MkXIV Spitfire, will be set in theatrical displays immersing people in the stories of WWII, including those of New Zealand pilots and aircrew who fought in the war. As with Omaka’s Knights of the Sky exhibition, a number of the aircraft on display will be maintained to a flyable standard.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre Chairman, Brian Greenall, said the TGP funding “was brilliant”.
“The exhibition is something we’ve been working towards for a long time, and the funding means we can start building right away, fit it out, and open it to the public. It enables us to provide an even more compelling experience for tourists,” Mr Greenall said.
Destination Marlborough General Manager, Tracy Johnston, said the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre already had a great reputation for delivering a quality visitor experience.
“This expansion has also become the catalyst for the Centre’s team to develop a new range of high value experiences to attract both leisure and corporate travellers. The initial response to the new range of products from international travel buyers attending TRENZ this week has been overwhelmingly positive.”
The new Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre experiences will include guided tours of both exhibitions combined with a between-the-wars cafe; a flying experience in a vintage Boeing Stearman open-cockpit biplane; a romantic package including a flight and luncheon in a vintage-themed marquee, and bespoke flying events.
The Centre will also have the capacity to be transformed into a dramatic evening function venue to further support Marlborough’s appeal as a conference destination.
These new experiences complement the already highly successful Classic Fighters Air Show – a three-day event held every second Easter, featuring more than 100 aircraft on display and attracting thousands of visitors to the region.
This year saw a number of firsts at the air show, including the flight of a replica V1 flying bomb, an aerial display by eight Fokker Triplanes, and three Spitfires in formation – the first time since the 1940s that three Spitfires had flown together in the southern hemisphere.
Work on the expansion is expected to begin immediately, with the exhibit scheduled to open mid-next year.