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Kerre McIvor
Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Fyfe's petty response unworthy

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Rob Fyfe. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Rob Fyfe. Photo / Brett Phibbs

I love my bosses at NewsTalk ZB. They're knowledgeable, supportive and loyal. The staff at Air New Zealand would probably give me a run for my money in the best boss stakes though.

Rob Fyfe is passionate about his airline and the people who've taken it from near bankruptcy to one of the best airlines in the world.

Fyfe has even won an award for his extraordinary leadership during a terrible period in Air New Zealand's history.

Judges in the Deloitte/Management magazine Executive of the Year award said Fyfe's sensitive handling of the Airbus crash off the coast of France with the loss of five Air New Zealand staff and two German pilots is considered "something of a blueprint for how to handle stressful personal and organisational tragedies".

So it's not surprising to see him leap to the defence of his staff when he feels they're being attacked.

3News revealed this week there had been six incidents of drink-driving involving four Air New Zealand staff, between 2007 and this year.

Superintendent John Kelly, the head of the local road policing unit, sent an email to his national manager, suggesting that police and Air New Zealand work together "to try to address a culture which accepts alcohol consumption, prior to working, as acceptable".

Rob Fyfe was incandescent with fury. He said the remarks were ill-considered and unsubstantiated, that Air New Zealand's drink-drive statistics were lower than that of the general population's and he accused the police of undermining the airline.

That seems a major over reaction.

Kelly released the information after a request from 3News under the Official Information Act. He had no choice but to release the memo. And really, you would hope that Air New Zealand's drink-drive statistics were better than those of the general population's.

An unemployed man, drunk behind the wheel of his rusted out Corolla, can do terrible damage on the roads but not as much damage as a pissed pilot.

In this age of computerised aircraft, I'm sure a pilot could manage a routine flight from Auckland to Wellington with a skinful but imagine if Captain Sully Sullenberger had had impaired judgment when he had to land his aircraft on the Hudson.

As Sully himself says, flying is all about the "what if" factor.

I know, too, that if our company had six drink-drive convictions in three years, my chief executive would want to know what was going on within our organisation - and we aren't responsible for people's safety at 30,000 feet.

Fyfe's shooting of the messenger is unjustified. If police weren't concerned about a pilot with four drink-driving convictions or an aircraft engineer who was on his way to work over the limit, we'd want their heads. And the police certainly get dragged through the media and their own internal investigations if any of their staff are caught over the limit.

As a frequent flyer, I'm a little concerned, too, that Air New Zealand refuses to tell us whether the pickled pilot is still in the cockpit.

I'm assuming not, but doesn't the "neither confirm nor deny" policy cast a shadow over other pilots?

When you ask whether the pilot's still flying and you get told privacy laws preclude an answer, you know that's just obfuscation.

Nobody knows the pilot's name so how the hell can privacy be the issue?

Fyfe is justifiably proud of his company and his people. The overwhelming majority are consummate professionals.

But this kind of petty reaction is not what we've come to expect from a passionate and inspirational leader.

- Herald on Sunday

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