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Gunn case first for passenger aircraft

JOHN EDENS IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 05:00 01/04/2013
Roderick Gunn
JOHN EDENS/Fairfax NZ
FALL FROM GRACE: Captain Roderick Gunn in the Queenstown District Court.

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More than 30 pilots have been convicted under civil aviation legislation used to prosecute a Pacific Blue pilot but the Queenstown case is a legal first.

The Civil Aviation Authority has decided not to appeal against the district court decision that allowed Captain Roderick Gunn to keep his licence.

Gunn, 55, of Auckland, was sentenced on Tuesday by Judge Kevin Phillips in the Queenstown District Court for operating a Boeing 737 in a careless manner on June 22, 2010.

Authority spokesman Mike Richards said 33 pilots had been prosecuted for careless operation but Gunn's prosecution was certainly the first case involving a commercial passenger aircraft.

Authority investigators covered the possibility of pressure by the operator to take off from Queenstown but there was no evidence.

It was a very important case because it demonstrated the authority was prepared to seek accountability for any actions that placed passengers at risk, he said.

Judge Phillips, who said the pilot's actions had all the ingredients of an "absolute disaster", did not disqualify Gunn but imposed conditions including undertaking ground-based training, a safety management course in the United States and not to act as pilot-in-command on any Queenstown flights for 12 months. He was also fined $5100.

The authority's prosecutor had called for disqualification but was not appealing against the court decision, Mr Richards said.

"The judge handed down his sentence having heard all the evidence and our submissions on the matter. We are happy to accept the judge's decision and have no reason to take that matter further."

Meanwhile, aviation commentators were discussing the outcome of the case on messageboards.One post said the takeoff profile from Queenstown was hardly run of the mill.

"The government seriously needs to do an inquiry into this and why CAA took this to trial for a $5000 fine and nothing else. What an absolute waste of time, money and everything else . . ."

Another compared the case to instances of professional censure, where medical malpractice allegations are heard by a board of professionals or, in legal cases, a panel of lawyers.

"This . . . non-compliance could have been handled in house with internal company sanctions with the same result, lower costs and greater educational deterrence value."

Commentator "Cpt Link Hog" said the incident had the potential to hurt the Queenstown tourism industry.

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"If there was any doubt I can't understand why he didn't just park up and go for beers in Q town."

One post by "skol" said the moral of the story was "don't break the rules, and don't subscribe to the ‘can-do' attitude" while another by "haughtney1" said the moral was operating to the most conservative set of applicable regulations and "beware of a regulator with a point to prove".

Judge Phillips said the pilot increased the risk to the aircraft, crew and passengers and the risk of a tragedy.

"There was an arrogance on your part, you thought your experience and abilities would overcome rules of law and then that decision-making led to an increased area of risk."

The CAA case said the pilot, who left Queenstown for Sydney at 5.25pm, should not have taken off after 5.14pm because rules stipulated 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.

john.edens@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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