The future of a pilot with more than 33 years' flying experience will be known next month after the Civil Aviation Authority and the defence made their final closing submissions at the Queenstown District Court yesterday.
The 54-year-old Auckland pilot faces charges of operating an aircraft carelessly after he allegedly departed Queenstown on June 22, 2010, in conditions of near darkness, high winds, with a low cloud ceiling and outside a departure time limit.
He will learn his fate on October 23.
The CAA alleges the pilot did not comply with the level of care required on his Pacific Blue 89 flight, carrying 65 passengers and five crew bound for Sydney.
In his closing submissions yesterday, prosecution lawyer Fletcher Pilditch said: "There were standards, there was a prescription and there were procedures. He operated outside of the procedures of what the CAA had approved to be safe and what passengers assumed to be safe."
Mr Pilditch reflected on the six expert opinions that were put before the court during the four-week hearing and said each expert had "distinct experiences, distinct personalities and distinct idiosyncrasies".
"There has to be rules ... sometimes there is a line, those lines are there for a reason. Rules are there to be met and to be followed in every instance. They were not followed and that amounts to careless operation of an aircraft."
Defence lawyer Matthew Muir submitted that the context of the pilot's departure must be considered in his final decision and that the breaches did not amount to a level of non-conformance or carelessness.
Mr Muir said the pilot's decision was based upon "inbuilt conservatism".
"He was not going to leave until he was satisfied the conditions for departure were met."
Mr Muir told the court the pilot faced falling on the wrong side of the criminal law in regard to the crosswind breach because, had he flown for Air New Zealand on that day, the 19-knot crosswind component he allegedly breached would not have surpassed the Air New Zealand 20-knot limit.
"You have other airlines operating under higher limitations."
The defence's case relies strongly on convincing the judge that the actions and the decision-making were those of a reasonable and prudent pilot.
If the CAA case is successful, the pilot faces disqualification as a commercial pilot and a fine of up to $7000.