I would have done the same - expert

17:00, Jul 09 2012

An expert witness in the trial of a Pacific Blue pilot yesterday said the midwinter departure was within operational guidelines and returning to Queenstown in an emergency increased risk.

The Papakura-based Pacific Blue pilot, 54, who has interim name suppression, appeared before Judge Kevin Phillips in Queenstown District Court for operating a Boeing 737 in a careless manner on June 22, 2010, a charge laid by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Defence witness Captain Stuart Julian, a commercial airline pilot and instructor with 13,500 flying hours, told the court flight PB89 met the operational procedure, known as exposition, to take off before civil evening twilight cutoff.

Previously, the court was told that the pilot's emergency plan for an engine failure was flying visually to a waypoint then heading to a "departure alternate" at Christchurch Airport.

But the prosecution says the crew was required to plan for an engine-out return-to-land procedure, flying a figure-eight, rather than the planned contingency to Christchurch.

An emergency procedure involving a figure eight increased the crew's workload and the associated risk, Mr Julian said.


Flying a visual figure-eight to return to land at Queenstown was challenging in a 737-800 aircraft.

"This crew and certainly the first officer did not receive any simulator training or any hands-on training. The captain had experience, the first officer did not."

This was a fundamental break in the crew's concept of the emergency manoeuvre, he said.

The authority alleges the pilot, who departed at 5.25pm, should not have taken off for Sydney after 5.14pm because rules stipulated departing aircraft needed at least 30 minutes before civil twilight, at 5.45pm.

Mr Julian said the standard operating procedure required a 45-metre wide runway if an engine failed.

Queenstown Airport has a 30m-wide runway compared with 45m at Christchurch.

The witness said every pilot on every flight must obey the laws of physics and there was nothing to suggest the aircraft was bouncing around like a cork on the high seas.

"Under a just culture regime, the pilot has a duty to safely produce an outcome flying an aircraft from A to B. Had I been the captain of PB89 that day, knowing the aircraft was sufficiently light to meet the departure alternate, I would have planned for that scenario rather than the return-to-land figure-eight."

However, he agreed under cross-examination by prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch, that one option was to cancel the flight.

The hearing continues.

The Southland Times