Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Accident puts brakes on pilot

The passengers bailed out on the runway. Photo / Bradley Ambrose.
The passengers bailed out on the runway. Photo / Bradley Ambrose.

A pilot was stood down after his passenger plane caught fire while taxiing at Auckland Airport.

Great Barrier Airlines chief executive Mark Roberts said the wheel mechanism caught fire because the pilot ignored a problem with a brake.

The brake then overheated, causing part of the plane's undercarriage to catch fire and forcing the pilot and his 11 passengers to scramble from emergency exits.

No one was hurt in the June 2 incident at Auckland Airport.

Great Barrier Airlines is still investigating, but the pilot had told them he knew the brake was jammed when he left the terminal, Roberts said.

The problem was not uncommon and was usually fixed by tapping the brakes.

"The pilot knew there was a problem and we've asked him why he didn't stop sooner ... he thought it would free up. The standard procedure is you tap it twice and if that doesn't free it you stop the plane and call the engineers.

He could've stopped sooner, part of the investigation is why he didn't.

"By no means are we saying that's the problem and that's where the blame lies and that's the end of the investigation, but obviously if he'd stopped earlier the brake wouldn't have overheated."

The pilot was stood down for a week and given more training. His first two flights after the stand-down were also supervised, Roberts said. "We'll be making some changes as a result of this incident ... changes in training procedures, and we're looking to see whether the pre-flight inspection can pick up likely problems."

The 36-year-old Britten-Norman Trislander plane, which was bought by the company from Mountain High Aviation in the American state of Washington in 2009 and has logged 16,371 hours, was back in the air the same afternoon.

The investigation included looking at the emergency response to the fire and the history of the plane, which was also involved in a second emergency at Pauanui Airport last year, and would be completed by the end of the month, Roberts said.

Civil Aviation Authority spokeswoman Emma Peel said the authority would review the report before deciding if further action was needed.

In the Pauanui incident the plane skidded off the end of the runway, crashed through a safety rail and stopped nose down in a garden.

Ten passengers and two pilots escaped injury.

Roberts said the two incidents were not related.

Their investigation had shown a broken water main under the runway was the main cause of the crash, as the soggy runway slowed the plane to the extent that the pilot decided to abort the takeoff, Roberts said. Authority manager John Kay said the agency was satisfied with those findings.

Great Barrier Airlines has been troubled by a string of incidents in the past three years, including two in 2009 when a propeller tore into a plane during a flight and a crash shortly after takeoff that injured two.

- Herald on Sunday

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