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The director of the Civil Aviation Authority says the finding a pilot flew carelessly out of Queenstown is a ''powerful reminder'' to those in the industry.
Graeme Harris said all those involved in civil aviation needed to ''maintain the highest professional standards in order to maintain a safe aviation system''. His comments came after Judge Kevin Phillips issued written findings on charges laid by the CAA that the 54-year-old Pacific Blue pilot carelessly operated an aircraft on June 22, 2010.
The matter was subject to a defended hearing over more than four weeks last year.
Corporate communications manager Mike Richards said the authority acknowledged the conviction, but would reserve comment until the pilot, who has interim name suppression, is sentenced later this month. Judge Phillips' decision concluded the pilot ''was careless in his operation of the aircraft and that he occasioned unnecessary endangerment to the passengers, the crew and the aircraft itself''.
He found the defendant breached the evening civil twilight departure time of 5.14pm; had left Queenstown for Sydney in poor light conditions; had breached industry requirements by not having a suitable contingency plan; and the plane should not have taken off.
The pilot was flying a Boeing 737, carrying 64 passengers and five crew, bound for Sydney.
Judge Phillips concluded the CAA's allegations the pilot flew in cloud below the minimum altitude and in a heavy crosswind and failed to prepare an anti-ice increment were also correct.
Judge Phillips was also convinced incidents after take-off were also of a careless manner such as the ''don't sink'' alert from the cockpit at 700ft and a ''bank angle'' alert after the pilot had corrected the aircraft.
''Each one is on its own some concern, taking into account the nature of the aircraft and the surrounding terrain and the proximity of Lake Wakatipu ... The safety margins at the time were, in my decision, seriously impacted on.''
''Risk avoidance is a priority in aircraft operations and the burden of risk avoidance falls clearly on the pilot.''
The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association was ''disappointed with the guilty verdict''. The association highlighted the fact the nearly three-year judicial process had been difficult for the pilot and his Auckland family.
Before the incident, the pilot's commercial career comprised 16,043 hours total flying time, of which 6000 hours were spent flying a Boeing 737, and 30 years' experience flying in and out of Queenstown. He faces disqualification as a commercial pilot and a maximum fine of up to $7000.
Pacific Blue said in a statement last night: ''We have received the judgement regarding the Pacific Blue pilot and we are reviewing the document.''
The Boeing 737 departed at 5.25pm, 11 minutes past the Pacific Blue Evening Civil Twilight limit of 5.14pm.
The pilot departed in conditions with a cloud ceiling below the required 2300ft.
Crosswinds extended beyond the wet runway limit of 16 knots prior to take-off, and that crosswinds were 19 knots.
Visual segment for tollgate crossing
The requirements of 10km horizontally and 1500ft above sea level vertically for a visual segment were not met.
The time of day plus cloud clover resulted in a low light situation for take-off.
Requirements for a planned figure-of-eight contingency circuit were not met.
The pilot had not placed wing anti-ice increment and this could have resulted in reduced obstacle clearance on climb-out, had the icing conditions been encountered.