Accused pilot: It was just a normal day

By Olivia Caldwell

The Pacific Blue pilot accused of careless operation of a Boeing 737 admits conditions were not ideal for taking off at Queenstown, but insists his approach was conservative. Photo / File
The Pacific Blue pilot accused of careless operation of a Boeing 737 admits conditions were not ideal for taking off at Queenstown, but insists his approach was conservative. Photo / File

The Pacific Blue pilot charged with carelessly operating a Boeing 737 at Queenstown Airport says he has no regrets over his actions but would not have left the runway if he knew he would be sitting in court two years on.

The 54-year-old Auckland man, on trial at Queenstown District Court, said the July 22, 2010, departure for which he was being prosecuted was nothing he had not faced before.

The commercial pilot of 33 years, who has name suppression, was in charge of a flight which left Queenstown carrying 71 passengers bound for Sydney after the Pacific Blue evening civil twilight (ECT) cut-off time of 5.14pm. His departure time of 5.25pm was before the official ECT of 5.36pm.

Cross-examined by prosecution lawyer Fletcher Pilditch yesterday, the pilot said he did not have any regrets initially.

However, he said that if he knew the Civil Aviation Authority would seek disciplinary action he would not have taken off.

"I don't recall having any regrets about it at that stage. I thought it was a matter the company and I would resolve," he said.

"I acknowledge absolutely the company and authority have a different view. If I was aware of that at the time I would not have departed."

His career as a commercial pilot includes 16,043 hours total flying time, including 6000 hours in a Boeing 737 and 30 years flying in and out of Queenstown.

This was the first time flying for Pacific Blue since he joined in 2005 that he had encountered a flight delay because of weather, but he defended his actions of leaving in clouded, wet and dark conditions and said he disagreed with evidence presented at the trial.

"I have great difficulty with some of the comments being made," he said.

"A lot of criticism was on the basis there was a front, but the actual front had moved through.

"It's not usual to sit around twiddling your thumbs doing nothing and waiting for the flight to clear."

The pilot said the "nasty little front" had left, cloud had lifted and there had been a rapid improvement in the weather before they left the runway.

He and the first officer could see a cloud clearance of 1200m using a reference point on the Remarkables and could also see the top of the Crown Range, 12km away.

There was an unobstructed climb up to about 1500m, he said.

However, the control tower still warned of cloud below 700m and he admitted there was a different perspective.

The tower had also warned of crosswinds up to 20 knots at 5.24pm - a minute before the plane departed, but he claims they were well under this.

"I felt I could take off with a reasonable degree of certainty with what I had read on the windsocks.

"We have to satisfy ourselves before takeoff that the wind was within the aircraft's limits, which I am satisfied we did."

"None of this I regarded as exceptionally difficult ... to me this was just another day at the office. It didn't strike me, I actually think we did a goodjob."

The automatic cockpit warnings received during the flight of "don't sink" and "bank angle" had come as no surprise to him and he likened them to a car's reverse beeping function.

"It's not an alarming thing that would startle anyone ... the computer doesn't know the pilot has initiated the descend."

The pilot told the court that his experience as an aircraft pilot told him the contingency procedure he had elected was a "conservative approach".

"While the weather was suitable for departure, it would have been much preferable to do it on a nice day. No one can deny it wasn't the best.

"To say this was unorthodox is actually not correct. Every departure we do is always planned on the basis there will be an engine failure. Any procedure you adopt in the event of an engine failure you do something different from the norm."

The trial continues.

- Otago Daily Times

- Otago Daily Times

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