Near misses in airspace

By Brendan Manning, Amy McGillivray

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There have been 11 accidents and five close calls involving aircraft in Tauranga over the past three years, new figures show.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) figures released to the Bay of Plenty Times show there were three accidents in 2010, five in 2011, three in 2012 and none so far this year.

There were 286 accidents throughout the country during the same period.

The CAA information also showed five close calls in Tauranga airspace between January 1, 2010 and July 1, 2013 which all involved light aircraft nothing bigger than a Cessna 152. One of the occurrences involved two Robinson R44 helicopters.

There have been 96 close encounters between aircraft above New Zealand during the same period. On average - Tauranga air traffic control processes about 200 aircraft movements each day.

A near miss was defined as a critical event that saw the distance between aircraft fall to less than three nautical miles horizontally or 1000ft vertically and required avoiding action to be taken by one or both aircraft.

Sunair owner and pilot Dan Power said he was not surprised or concerned by the statistics.

"It's not unlike having a near miss in your car. It can be life threatening or it can be nothing."

Passengers should not be alarmed as close calls were extremely uncommon, he said.

"We do some 3000 departures a year and one of our aeroplanes is involved [in a near miss] about once every five years," he said. "The best advice is that they need to get things in perspective. We've been in operation in air transport for 30 years and we've never had a serious accident."

Island Air pilot Dane Bendall said Tauranga airport was busy by regional airport standards.

"This is a high density training area. We've got one flight school here and an aero club. In the training environment [accidents and near misses] are bound to happen."

In October 2012, two men narrowly escaped when their gyrocopter lost power shortly after takeoff and crashed into Tauranga Harbour. Another two men were lucky to survive when their gyrocopter crashed into the sea off Matakana Island in June last year and in January a home-built plane crashed after hitting an elevated landing light on the Tauranga airport runway.

There were also four loss of separation occurrences in the city's airspace during the same period. Nationally, there were 181 such incidents reported.

CAA communications manager Mike Richards said loss of separation did not mean imminent danger but was a technical term used when any controlled flights were separated by less than the approved minimum distances.

The distances varied based on circumstances.

"Although the terms sound quite dramatic, they are really all about alerts or early warning systems and these alerts allow aircraft to navigate within quite generous, safe distances of each other," he said.

There were also 12 aborted takeoffs over the same time period, one of which occurred this year.


Air incidents



  • October 24, 2012: Two men escaped after their gyrocopter crashed into Tauranga Harbour.


  • June 17, 2012: Two men survived when their gyrocopter crashed into the sea off Matakana Island.


  • January 18, 2012: A home-built plane crashed at Tauranga Airport after hitting an elevated landing light as it landed. The pilot was not injured.


  • December, 20, 2011: A plane crashed off the runway on Motiti Island and crashed. The two occupants were not injured.


  • February 14, 2011: A man escaped uninjured when his motor-glider flipped during take-off at Tauranga Airport.


  • September 17, 2010: Jeffery Arthur Bryant died when his microlight crashed at the eastern end of the Tauranga Airport runway soon after takeoff.


  • April 28, 2010: A student pilot bounced his Cessna 152 on landing at Tauranga Airport causing the nose wheel to collapse.


- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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