Plane left on auto-pilot - report

Pilots have been reminded of the dangers in being distracted in the cockpit after a flight into Queenstown was left on auto-pilot and passed below minimum low flying safety levels.

The stark warning was made in the conclusions of an air safety investigation into an Australian-registered Jetstar Airbus A320 flight on July 16, 2012.

At about 8.30am, it began its approach to the runway at Queenstown airport.

But, an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found that the crew "continued descent with the auto-flight system in open descent mode, which did not provide protection against infringing the instrument approach procedure's segment minimum safe altitudes".

The plane descended below two segment minimum safe altitudes, the ATSB said in a new report published today (Tues.).

When the crew recognised the error, they corrected their approach to land.

The ATSB also found that the crew were not strictly adhering to the operator's flight deck procedures, which "probably allowed the crew to become distracted".

The incident has prompted the ATSB to remind operators and flight crew of the importance of "continuous attention to active and armed auto-flight system modes".

"For flight crew, this occurrence illustrates once again the fallibility of prospective memory and the potentially serious effects of pilot distraction,' the report says.

- by Kurt Bayer