'No need' to screen Brownlee at airport

Last updated 14:33 26/07/2014
Gerry Brownlee
Fairfax NZ
GERRY BROWNLEE: 'Running late for a plane is not an excuse for bypassing a security check'.

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Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has blamed a "complete brain fade" for evading Christchurch Airport security to board a plane with two of his staff.

The Civil Aviation Authority is investigating Brownlee after he admitted he evaded Christchurch Airport security to board a plane with two of his staff, including press secretary Nick Bryant.

Brownlee told Prime Minister John Key he was in a hurry so went through an exit door. He offered his resignation, which Key rejected.

"We had already arranged for the boarding passes to be available to us because I knew we were tight for time," Brownlee said.

He just "walked through those doors". He knocked on the and an airport employee opened the door. Brownlee told him he was in a hurry to get on the flight and asked if he could come through. "I never gave it another thought."

Brownlee said he did not think about his position of Transport Minister or how airport security staff might respond.

"Look it was a lapse. You've got a lot of things going through your head at one time, and I'm at a loss to explain it."

After he had arrived in his Beehive office, an adviser asked him if he had gone flown without going through airport security.

"I thought 'sh*t'. I immediately contacted the 9th floor of the Beehive and immediately set about the process of writing a letter (of resignation) to the Prime Minister."

It was an "instant realisation", Brownlee said.

He was just looking for a "fast way out" of the airport.

"You fly so often. You're on regional flights, main trunk flights.

"Look, as I say I'm at a loss to say what was going on in my head ... But I have never ever liked that preferment stuff. It's aggravating and it's personally disappointing, to be viewed in that sort of light. But it is what it is, unfortunately."

'NO NEED' TO SCREEN BROWNLEE AT AIRPORT

A senior aviation security officer gave a pilot the all-clear to fly despite Gerry Brownlee's security breach because he "was not required to be screened".

Air New Zealand boss David Morgan yesterday issued a statement vindicating the pilot's actions on Thursday, amid calls from Labour for the Transport Minister to stand down.

Brownlee told Prime Minister John Key he was in a hurry so went through an exit door. He offered his resignation, which Key rejected.

The Wellington-bound Boeing 737 departed with all three on board.

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New Zealand regulations say the plane should have been emptied and all passengers security checked again.

Morgan, who is Air New Zealand's chief flight operations and safety officer, said the pilot made the "error" to fly without doing so on the advice of the senior Aviation Security Service [AVSEC] officer, who visited the cockpit prior to departure.

The pilot would not be sanctioned, he said.

"The pilot was advised by a senior AVSEC officer ... that Mr Brownlee was on board and that he had not been security screened," Morgan said.

"However, the officer advised the pilot that AVSEC was happy to allow Mr Brownlee to travel and that he was not required to be screened. This was an error and the pilot should not have operated the flight with an unscreened passenger on board."

Key yesterday stood by his decision not to accept Brownlee's resignation, saying it was not a sacking offence. He refused to be drawn on whether his position would change if the investigation ended in his minister facing prosecution or other sanctions.

The CAA inquiry would be conducted "completely independent" of Government and Brownlee would have to live with the findings as "no one is above the law", Key said.

Brownlee yesterday delegated responsibility for the CAA to his associate minister, Michael Woodhouse, while it investigated.

The CAA refused to respond to inquiries while the investigation was under way.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said Key should ask Brownlee to hand in his transport warrant and stand him down for the duration of the investigation.

"It's just not on to continue as Transport Minister while being investigated by transport officials," Cunliffe said.

Brownlee told The Press he had sent a note to Christchurch Airport asking them to pass on his "his sincere apology" to the man who swiped them through and also "assure him that I consider myself entirely responsible".

He did not know what time the group checked in as it was organised by someone else. The group's boarding passes were waiting for them at the gate.

"There were about three or four minutes by the time we got through before the plane was boarding.

"I genuinely thought we were in quite a hurry."

Brownlee said his two staff members were "obviously caught in this", but he alone was to blame.

Brownlee had assured Bryant his employment was secure but "unfortunately, his employment is directly tied to mine."

- The Press

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