Two Air New Zealand pilots were stood down and their cabin
crew offered counselling after a frightening mid-air incident
on a packed transtasman flight.
The drama unfolded on flight NZ176 between Perth and Auckland
on May 21, when the first officer was locked out of the
cockpit for two minutes.
The captain did not respond to requests to open the locked
door, alarming crew. The pair had apparently fallen out over
a take-off delay.
One expert says two minutes is "an eternity" on a flight -
and the incident, on a Boeing 777-200 carrying 303 people,
has sparked calls for a third crew member to be added to
flight decks so no one is ever alone in the cockpit.
Air NZ spokeswoman Marie Hosking said the first officer and
crew became concerned after the captain did not respond to
three requests over two minutes from a cabin crew member to
open the cockpit door.
The first officer eventually used an alternative method to
access the cockpit.
For security reasons, the airline would not say how.
"Naturally, cabin crew operating the flight were concerned
about the inability to contact the captain and became quite
anxious," said the national carrier's operational integrity
and safety manager Errol Burtenshaw.
They were offered the support of the company's employee
assistance programme after the flight.
Both pilots were stood down - the captain for two weeks and
the first officer for a week, and given counselling and
There was "some tension" between the pilots after a 13-minute
delay to the flight's departure after the first officer had
to take part in a random drug and alcohol test.
"This departure delay frustrated the captain who prides
himself on operational efficiency."
Safety and security were paramount and the incident was
"unfortunate", Burtenshaw said.
"Both pilots have learned a valuable lesson around the need
to communicate better with peers."
He said the captain did not respond or open the door because
he was approaching a navigational waypoint and in his cockpit
monitor saw a cabin crew member rather than the first officer
The airline provided a report on the incident to the Civil
Aviation Authority. Spokesman Mike Richards said it was
satisfied with Air NZ's actions.
But aviation commentator Peter Clark said the incident showed
it was time all airlines put a third crew member in the
cockpit. "After [the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines
flight] MH370 there's definitely questions being asked about
whether there should be more than two people on the flight
The Beijing-bound Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew
vanished after the plane left Kuala Lumpur on March 8. A
Malaysian investigation last month identified the captain as
the chief suspect, if human intervention was to blame.
Clark said there was no excuse for the Air NZ captain to not
immediately respond to calls, given the MH370 mystery and the
fate of other flights, including an Ethiopian Airlines flight
hijacked by its asylum-seeking co-pilot this year.
"You can push a button and say 'I'm busy' ... two minutes is
an eternity when people reflect on MH370. The transponder can
be turned off, the flight co-ordinates changed, the plane
"It shouldn't have happened."