Air NZ hijacker now flies with them

The man at the centre of Air New Zealand's first hijacking has been granted residency here - and regularly flies with the airline he once held up.

Amjad Ali hijacked an Air NZ 747 on the tarmac at Nadi Airport in Fiji on May 19, 1987, carrying six packets of dynamite.

He let the 105 passengers - mostly Japanese tourists en route from Tokyo to Auckland - off the plane, but held three crew hostage in the cockpit for six hours.

The hijacking ended when a flight engineer whacked him on the head with a bottle of duty-free whisky, and the pilot leapt on him to stop him lighting the six-second fuse on one of the packets of dynamite.

The incident happened just five days after Sitiveni Rabuka's military coup against Fiji's newly elected, and Indian-dominated, Labour government.

Ali, a Fijian Indian, demanded asylum in New Zealand, and the release of 27 Cabinet members, who were all being held in custody.

He was convicted only of taking explosives on a plane, and was given a suspended sentence. He later became a Fiji MP.

This week, 27 years after the hijacking, he confirmed to The Dominion Post that he was granted permanent residency in New Zealand in 2009.

He now spends his time between Fiji and Auckland, where the bulk of his family lives, and often flies between the two on Air New Zealand.

His wife had earlier received residency and his son was born here. "As for my criminal record, I declared it and left it to authorities."

Immigration NZ said it could not comment on individual cases for privacy reasons, but did supply a list of reasons why people could be denied a visa.

These included someone being jailed for five or more years, or 12 months or more in the past decade; people previously being removed, deported, or excluded from New Zealand or another country; known terrorists; or people the immigration minister believed could be a security risk.

The office of Jonathan Coleman, who was immigration minister when Ali was granted residency, said yesterday that the case did not come across his desk. It did not want to comment further.

Labour immigration spokesman Trevor Mallard said the hijacking probably should have ruled Ali out of getting residency.

Because of the controversial nature of the case, it should at least have been run past the minister, he said.

Wellington immigration lawyer John Petris said that people could get residency if they had minor convictions, such as drink-driving.

"I don't know the specifics [of this case] but, on the face of it, for someone with serious convictions it would be difficult."

Air New Zealand would not comment on flying a former hijacker on its planes, citing "privacy and security reasons".

"An individual's eligibility for carriage with the airline is based on factors such as compliance with aviation security regulatory requirements, Civil Aviation requirements and our conditions of carriage," it said in a statement.

Pilot Graeme Gleeson, one of the three men held hostage by Ali, said this week that, while he did not condone the hijacking, he was sympathetic to Ali. He caused no injuries to anyone, or damage to the plane.

"I could understand his motives. I could understand the Indian reaction to what was happening."

The Dominion Post