Airline grounded for alleged false records
A charter airline company whose customers include Air New Zealand and the Corrections Department has been grounded because of safety concerns.
Air National is New Zealand's largest charter airline, with nine aircraft ranging from private jets to airliners.
About 65 flights are expected to be affected if the Civil Aviation Authority's 10-day suspension of Air National's corporate air operating certificate, which began last Friday, continues.
Air National operates two daily return flights between Christchurch and Hokitika on behalf of Air NZ, using a 19-seat Jetstream J32 turbo prop aircraft.
Air NZ said the service would instead use its own Beech 1900D and Bombardier Q300 regional aircraft to fly the route. No passengers would be affected by the grounding.
Yesterday a High Court judge said the suspension should be lifted pending a full hearing of the case but Justice Denis Clifford left it in place another 24 hours, till 4.30pm today, so the authority could appeal.
The "straw that broke the camel's back" was that flight simulator training records for two company pilots were at least wrong, possibly falsified.
The authority's lawyer, Kim Murray, said it was one of a series of incidents.
"The applicant [Air National] has an appalling history of non-compliance with minimum safety standards and suspension was inevitable when falsified training records were discovered," Mr Murray said.
But the company's lawyer, Sherridan Cook, said if that was true CAA would have acted earlier.
"Documentation issues" needed attention but the authority's concerns were far from the kind of real and imminent threat to safety that would justify stopping flights.
Justice Clifford said the company seemed to have responded generally satisfactorily to issues the authority raised. An investigation was justified, and then a decision made on suspension.
A suspension pending an investigation was more appropriate when immediate safety concerns occurred.
He was also concerned that the authority's director, Steve Douglas, suspended Air National three days after the auditor-general questioned whether authority staff were "overly helpful" to the company.
The company might not survive the loss of reputation and contracts if the suspension continued, Justice Clifford was told.
Air National's work includes charters for tourist companies – including a $4 million contract in just its second week – and Corrections Department, but it also supplies planes and crews for Eagle Air, an Air NZ subsidiary flying provincial routes.
One of the Air National private jets is a Cessna Citation I owned by publisher Barry Colman.
The Dominion Post