Warbirds and RNZAF to pay $616k over plane crash

Warbirds Over Wanaka and the Royal New Zealand Airforce have been found liable for a crash at the 2018 event which left a pilot unharmed but his vintage aircraft destroyed.

A recently released High Court judgement saw both ordered to pay a total of $616,500 plus GST, an amount to be apportioned by the court if the parties could not decide what percentage to pay between them.

The damages determination by Justice Jill Mallon covered the amount the company owned by pilot Arthur Dovey, Dovey Aviation Consulting Limited, said it would
cost to repair his Yak-3M, after the World War 2 Russian aircraft he was flying hit one of two cherry pickers parked on a grass runway.

Mr Dovey’s company took seven parties to court: the air force, which had provided the military display director for the show, Warbirds Over Wanaka, and five individual employees.

Pilot Arthur Dover signals he is OK after the Yak he was landing collided with a cherry picker on...
Pilot Arthur Dover signals he is OK after the Yak he was landing collided with a cherry picker on the grass runway. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Mr Dovey had made what looked like a smooth landing but seconds later his plane crashed into the cherry pickers, machines which he thought had been removed.
The airforce, represented by the Attorney-General, and the air show were held liable.

Justice Mallon  found that Mr Dovey’s approach when he came in to land was professional and skilful.

Any negligence on his behalf in not checking that the runway was clear was balanced by the duty of the airshow organiser and the display director to ensure that the runway was clear.

"A pilot takes risks when display flying, but one of those should not be that there will be a large stationary object on an available runway."

The air force squadron leader directing the display breached his duty of care to the plaintiff on several scores, which included directing that the cherry pickers be moved without first checking whether this would constitute a hazard for other non-RNZAF aircraft, and failing to alert those at the pilot briefing that the machines had been moved.

"(He was)  relying on assumptions and conventions or practices about where Mr Dovey would land, when there was no sufficient basis to do so and the proper approach was to ask the display director and the formation where they intended to land or to ensure that all of the available vectors were kept clear."

The Yak with damage to one of its wings. Photo: Louise Frampton
The Yak with damage to one of its wings. Photo: Louise Frampton
Warbirds Over Wanaka personnel breached their duty of care by allowing a change to the flying programme without an appropriate risk assessment.

It also briefed pilots that the centre grass where Mr Dovey landed was available on the morning of the show without qualification, and without an adequate risk assessment of the implications of that.

"In the context of warbird airshows like this, if the procedures that are intended to ensure the safety of the show are inadequate, the risk of an accident is particularly high," Justice Mallon said.

"Mr Dovey was entitled to expect that any expectations the display director on duty would be relying on as to the choice of landing vector would be made clear to him and that he would be alerted to hazards."

Warbirds Over Wanaka also challenged the amount of damages claimed by Mr Dovey’s company, saying that the aircraft had been warehoused for two years, o steps had been undertaken to repair it, and Mr Dovey had given no indication he intended to repair the aircraft.

Justice Mallon accepted the company’s response that it did not have the funds to repair the plane at present, and said Warbirds Over Wanaka had failed to prove" by a wide margin" that selling the wreck and purchasing a new Yak would be more cost effective than repairing it.

She ordered the repair costs claimed by Mr Dovey’s company, $616,500 plus GST and interest, and reserved the issue of court costs.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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