CAA needs more funding so it can do its job: pilot's family

Nigel Gould.
Nigel Gould.
The family of a Queenstown pilot killed after his helicopter crashed on Fox Glacier says the Government needs to fund the Civil Aviation Authority to do its job properly.

The authority has admitted its inspectors were too soft on scenic flight operators by not verifying claims that were sometimes misleading.

Mitch Gameren (28) and six passengers died when the Alpine Adventures AS350 Squirrel helicopter he was flying on a scenic trip plunged into a deep crevasse in the glacier on November 21, 2015.

The CAA held a media briefing in Wellington yesterday following the sentencing in Christchurch on Friday of Alpine Adventures managing director and owner James Scott, and quality assurance manager Barry Waterland's company, Aviation Manual Development (2009) Ltd.

They were charged under Health and Safety in Employment Act legislation.

In its review of the 2015 incident, the CAA said Alpine Adventures, which employed Mr Gameren, misled its officers on numerous occasions.

The authority also acknowedged its own failings.

"Our oversight of [the operator] should have been better,'' CAA chairman Nigel Gould told the media briefing.

"If it was, we would have placed more pressure on the operator to lift their safety performance.''

Mr Gould said the organisation's investigation found Alpine Adventures had a poor safety culture.

"We also discovered that the operator had previously on multiple occasions misled CAA officers about matters that were relevant to its compliance with civil aviation rules.''

An internal review of the CAA also showed the way inspectors documented their interactions with Alpine Adventures were inconsistent.

Non-compliances had not always been formally reported as findings, and inspectors were too trusting, not verifying the information being given to them.

"Our training for inspectors now places a strong focus on the need for inspectors to rigorously report their findings, and to come back from inspections with proof of compliance from operators, rather than assurances.''

New Zealand has the highest number of helicopters per capita in the world. Yet at the time of the crash, it had just two inspectors available to oversee about 100 helicopter operators.

The inspectors did not inspect alpine and glacier landing sites, and were more focused on management oversight, CAA general aviation deputy director Steve Moore said.

The team of inspectors had since been boosted to eight.

However, airline pilot Brett Gameren, Mitch's brother, told the Otago Daily Times more still needed to be done.

The Civil Aviation Authority's officers should have been able to see through what Alpine Adventures were telling them, he said.

"I think the auditors at the time were just a bit naive, possibly.

"If there were problems, they should have been reported back.''

Asked if he thought the CAA's actions to fix its problems were acceptable, Mr Gameren said they were, to an extent.

"There probably needs to be more work.''

However, the CAA could only hire as many people as it could afford.

"The Government needs to give them more money to do their job.''

Mr Scott is the founder of Fox Franz Heliservices Ltd.

Heliservices general manager Mike Nolan said the company was waiting until the release of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission report on the incident on Thursday before commenting. - additional reporting RNZ


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