Pilot to face court after 'dangerous' takeoff

JOHN EDENS
Last updated 05:00 04/05/2011

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The pilot who allegedly failed to comply with Pacific Blue takeoff rules during a Queenstown to Sydney flight is expected to appear in court this month.

Civil Aviation Authority investigators laid two charges against the captain, who was flying a Boeing 737-800 aircraft during the midwinter, dusk takeoff from Queenstown Airport in June.

The pilot was charged with causing unnecessary danger under the Civil Aviation Act and one other charge.

New Zealand Airline Pilots' Association technical director Stu Julian declined to comment on the case, saying it was before the court.

However, he said if a pilot was a union member and faced charges, then the association offered support, including technical expertise in civil and criminal cases.

Under Pacific Blue's flight rules at Queenstown, aircraft must not take off unless there is at least 30 minutes of twilight remaining but the June 22 flight was airborne about 20 minutes after the cutoff.

The airline's procedures were designed to allow aircraft enough time to return to the airport.

CAA rules say Queenstown flights must take off before twilight, so air traffic control cleared the Sydney flight for takeoff.

The CAA investigation, which included obtaining flight records, interviewing pilots, air traffic controllers and the MetService, concluded the airline's safety procedures were breached and safety compromised.

The airline and the flight's first officer were not charged.

Under section 44 of the act, it is an offence punishable by up to 12 months' jail or a $10,000 fine to cause unnecessary danger to a person or property while operating or maintaining an aircraft or aviation-related service.

Aircraft must comply with visual flight rules during takeoff and approaches to Queenstown Airport, which does not have runway lights and is surrounded by mountains. However, runway lights are being installed.

The captain was stood down on full pay pending the outcome of court proceedings, scheduled for a first appearance in the Queenstown District Court on May 16.

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