Air NZ angry at police drink-drive comments

00:04, Feb 23 2010

Air New Zealand has written to the Police Commissioner, angry at comments by a superintendent that the airline has a drink-driving problem, which it denied.

The comments from Superintendent John Kelly, Auckland road policing manager, came in an internal memo to national road policing manager Paula Rose in December and referred to a meeting with the airline some 18 months earlier at which police voiced concerns about four cases of drink-driving in the year to May 2008. There were also three others in the past three years that the airline did not know about, TV3 reported.

"As an aside, this may be the tip of the iceberg ... There may be many others who have not been identified as Air New Zealand staff or who have been apprehended elsewhere and so have not come to my attention," Mr Kelly said to Ms Rose.

The memo was released by police to TV3 following an Official Information Act request.

Air NZ chief executive Rob Fyfe said in a letter to Police Commissioner Howard Broad today that the comments were "unsubstantiated and ill considered' from a senior police officer.

Mr Kelly's speculation that there was a drink-driving problem at the airline was not substantiated by fact and reflected a view "guessed at by the inspector on the basis of other cases which he speculates may exist but he is not aware of.

"I believe Air NZ and the New Zealand public deserve, and should reasonably expect, a much higher standard of fact and substance before senior police officers release comments in the public domain which serve to undermine confidence in Air NZ and our commitment to the safety of staff and passengers."

TV3 said two of the four employees caught drink-driving were on their way to work.

One was a pilot, who had been charged with excess breath alcohol on three previous occasions. A mechanic on his way to work was 2-1/2 half times the legal limit.

A flight attendant, on the way to work, and dressed in full Air NZ uniform, was also over the limit and was later fired.

TV3 said the OIA documents showed others had been caught, but Air NZ bosses did not know who they were, because they weren't caught on the way to work or in uniform and identifiable.

They are a mechanic with three breath alcohol convictions in four years, another pilot and an aircraft engineer.

Mr Fyfe said the four cases mentioned in the year to May 2008 indicated an incident rate of 0.03 percent over the airline's 12,000 employees compared with a rate of 1 percent over the New Zealand population at large.

"This suggests to me that, rather than a drink-drive problem at Air NZ, the available facts suggest that the application of the drug and alcohol policies that are in force...have led to an improvement in the drink drive culture as compared to that which is evident across the New Zealand population at large."

However, he said the airline viewed four cases in 12 months as four too many and would strive to achieve its target of zero incidents, through ongoing random testing of all employees in safety sensitive roles, "reasonable cause" testing when an employee was suspected of being under the influence, and intervention and rehabilitation programmes for those affected by drug or alcohol dependency.

Air New Zealand group general manager for people, Vanessa Stoddart, said the airline had previously made two OIA applications to police for information on staff involved in drink driving cases while on their way to work. One of those cases was currently before the Employment Relations Authority.

Mr Broad tonight issued a statement accepting the "numbers involved are a small percentage of all of Air NZ employees".

"Superintendent John Kelly made a judgment in relation to the knowledge that he had about employees of Air NZ that had been caught over the blood-alcohol limit on their way to work.

"The information Superintendent Kelly had was sufficient for him to decide that he ought to discuss the matter with the Air NZ administration to ensure that Air NZ had appropriate policies in place. Following those emails he was given assurances from the airline and police were satisfied they had sufficient policies in place."