Culture of under-reporting air incidents denied

00:00, Jul 24 2014

Claims of a culture of under-reporting aviation incidents such as near misses in New Zealand are being denied, with a commentator saying it is about as common as elsewhere in the world.

At the coroner's inquest this week for Jessica Neeson and Patricia Smallman, who died in a mid-air collision near Feilding's Taonui Airfield in July 2010, air crash investigator Captain Gary Parata said near misses were often not reported to the Civil Aviation Authority.

While commercial airlines always reported, incidents in uncontrolled airspace were often unnotified. This was because student pilots, especially those from overseas, were afraid of damaging their careers, he said.

Massey University's aviation school declined to comment, and the CAA did not provide comment. But aviation commentator Irene King, with 20 years' experience in the industry, said Parata's claims were not entirely correct. While there were times when incidents were not reported, it was in line with other countries.

"[Internationally], for one major problem, there's probably five that don't get reported. New Zealand is not dramatically different in that respect." Singling out foreign students was not right because under-reporting was not just their problem, King said. Instead, the issue could be down to perception of incidents. People may not have thought what some people would call a near miss was serious enough, or could be completely oblivious to the fact something happened.

All incidents must be reported to the Civil Aviation Authority, which then decides if legal action should be taken or if procedural changes should be made.


King said people had been afraid of reporting incidents to the CAA in the past, when the agency had taken on a prosecutorial mindset. That mindset had come about after the Air Adventures crash in 2003, when a plane flying from Palmerston North Airport hit the ground on its approach to Christchurch International Airport, killing seven passengers and the pilot.

A coroner's report into the crash made 31 recommendations after finding concerns about the regulation of the general aviation sector.

King said the CAA had since taken on a "just culture" to reporting, wherein people who reported were not immediately suspected as breaking the law.

That encouraged people to come forward with concerns, which was good for the industry, she said.

That is backed up in a Transport Accident Investigation Commission report from last year, that shows a rising number of mid-air incidents involving student pilots from 2006 to 2011. The report said the rise could be down to better reporting instead of worse piloting.

Manawatu Standard