Cockpit door drama on Air NZ jet

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 10:32 06/07/2014

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A midair drama on a trans-Tasman Air New Zealand flight led to two pilots being stood down after the captain failed to open the cockpit door for the co-pilot for two minutes, worrying cabin crew.

The incident happened on Perth-Auckland flight NZ176 on May 21 and was linked to ''some tension'' between the pair about how long the first officer took to do a random drug and alcohol test, according to Air New Zealand's manager of operational integrity and safety, Errol Burtenshaw.

The resulting 13 minute delay to the flight departing Perth had frustrated the captain, who prided himself on operational efficiency.

During the overnight flight, the first officer left the flight deck for a comfort break and had a coffee with a cabin crew member in the galley area after visiting the bathroom.

''Given the altitude of the flight at the time, the captain who remained on the flight deck donned his oxygen mask, as is standard procedure when one pilot exits the flight deck in a two-person flight crew,'' Burtenshaw said.

However, when the first officer had finished his break, the cabin crew member spent up to two minutes trying to call through to the captain on the flight deck to tell him the first officer was waiting at the cockpit door to be let in.

''The first officer became concerned that the captain did not answer the calls and used an alternative entry method to gain access.

''Naturally, cabin crew operating the flight were concerned about the inability to contact the captain and became quite anxious.''

Cabin crew were offered counselling for the traumatic flight via the company's employee assistance programme.

Air New Zealand launched an internal investigation ''given the use of an alternative entry method is highly unusual'' and a report had been submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Burtenshaw said the captain had failed to respond or open the door because he was approaching a navigational waypoint and his cockpit monitor showed a cabin crew member was ringing rather than the first officer.

The flight continued as normal after the incident.

After the flight, the captain was stood down for two weeks and the first officer was stood down for a week. Both received additional training and ''were counselled'', he said.

''Safety and security are paramount and non-negotiable for Air New Zealand. This issue on NZ176 is unfortunate and both pilots have learned a valuable lesson around the need to communicate better with peers.''

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