The trial of an experienced airline pilot charged with careless operation of a passenger jet during a late takeoff adjourned yesterday.
The 54-year-old pilot, who has interim name suppression, appeared in Queenstown District Court before Judge Kevin Phillips, charged with operating a Boeing 737 in a careless manner on June 22, 2010, a charge laid by the Civil Aviation Authority.
Judge Phillips said he was reserving a decision until after closing submissions.
Yesterday, defence lawyer Matthew Muir asked expert witness and Civil Aviation Authority safety investigation unit acting manager Alan Moselen, who had been summoned to give evidence, whether he had reservations regarding categorisation of the Boeing 737-800.
In March, the court was told Pacific Blue Boeing 737-800 might not be suitable for departures on the standard Queenstown departure route and there was considerable discussion about the international classification of the aircraft type.
Mr Moselen said there were inconsistencies in the categorisation of the aircraft in the official New Zealand aeronautical information and Boeing information.
Mr Muir said the defence position was that once the captain established the aircraft was capable of exiting the Wakatipu basin he was obliged to do so if an alternative airport – planned for as an emergency route – was available.
He did not accept the prosecution's proposition that the captain devised a contingency, which was mandated in procedures.
"It was not off piste or freelance," he said.
Prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch said the pilot's evidence was the most important and the question for the court was whether flight planning was prudent.
The authority alleged the pilot, who departed Queenstown for Sydney at 5.25pm, should not have taken off after 5.14pm because the company said departing aircraft needed at least 30 minutes before civil twilight cutoff at 5.45pm.
He was not entitled to plan for an emergency route to Christchurch if an engine failed and was required to plan for a return to land using a figure-of-eight manoeuvre, the prosecution says.
The defence case argues that the pilot's actions were correct and any breach of requirements, if demonstrated, was below the level of carelessness.
Planning for a return to Queenstown was not required and he was correct to identify Christchurch as an alternative airport if an engine failed, the defence case argued.
Judge Phillips said the question for the court was whether the captain on that particular day fell below the standard of care expected of a reasonable and prudent pilot.
Under the Civil Aviation Act, the charge carries a maximum fine of $7000 for an individual.
Closing submissions by the prosecution and defence will be heard on September 3 in Queenstown District Court.
Judge Phillips is expected to make a ruling on October 23.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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