Former pilot convicted for endangering tourists in NZ with “severely damaged” plane

Scenic helicopter flight with view from cockpit,  Milford Sound , Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand.

A former scenic tours pilot in New Zealand has been convicted for endangering tourists after he continued to fly an aircraft he knew was “severely damaged”.

The country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the man had been slapped with a $5,350 fine for flying tourists between Queenstown and Fiordland knowing the aircraft he was flying had a damaged propeller and for carrying out repairs on the aircraft without the necessary qualifications.

The incident took place more than a decade ago, on 26 January 2010 when the man was working as a senior pilot for a scenic tourist flight operator, taking tourists between Queenstown and Fiordland.

While taking off from Big Bay, a beach north of Milford Sound, the aircraft’s propeller was severely damaged by stones thrown up during the take-off run.

The CAA said the man would have been aware of the potential for damage at Big Bay, but he failed to conduct an inspection of the aircraft after return to Queenstown, not even a quick ‘walk-around’ which would have revealed the damage.

He then picked up a group of tourists from Milford Sound, where he noticed the damage and informed head office before trying to minimise the damage by filing down the propeller, which only appropriately qualified aircraft engineers are allowed to do.

He then flew to Queenstown with six passengers on board. Upon landing, the aircraft was grounded by the company’s owner in the interests of safety.

“Taking a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude just doesn’t cut it when there’s damage to critical aircraft components such as propellers,” CAA deputy chief executive David Harrison said.

“Pilots and engineers each have hugely important roles to play in keeping aviation safe, but there are clear lines about the sort of work that needs to be carried out by qualified aircraft engineers.

“In this case, we’re lucky that there weren’t more serious consequences given the seriousness of the damage to the prop.”

The name of the company the former pilot was working for has been suppressed by the court, but Travel Weekly understands it is now under new ownership and management.

Featured image source: iStock/Antonel

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