Inexperienced pilots, communication issues and flying while tired are among concerns described in a new report about helicopter and light aircraft safety operations in New Zealand.
The review for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also warns of the major financial stakes linked to the industry. With New Zealand aiming to almost double the value of tourism to $41 billion by 2025, the report points to aviation's "considerable social and economic importance for New Zealand" and the "global reputation as a tourism destination".
There have been a number of high-profile tourist crashes, most recently the November Fox Glacier helicopter crash that killed six tourists and a pilot.
That was one of 12 serious accidents in the past five years that have claimed 27 lives.
The CAA, the crown entity responsible for setting aviation safety standards, commissioned the independent review to risk-profile operations relating to helicopters and small aeroplanes.
Small aeroplanes are classed as having seating for nine passengers or less, excluding any crew.
The response, written by Auckland company Navigatus Consulting and dated November 27, 2015, reported five "key risk themes":
• Training and pilot experience
• Organisational environment and culture
• Sector safety culture and collaboration
• Institutional clients and their role in safety leadership
• Regulator and its practice.
Among the findings, experience and training issues include a "wide acknowledgement that there is a shortage of experienced pilots" and there is also evidence that not all organisations provide repeat training "due to the perceived high business cost."
There are also worries over some pilots working long hours and flying while tired.
"According to the survey, during peak season in the past five years, the perceived need to 'get the job done' compounded with having no back-up pilots sometimes resulted in a small number of pilots working for prolonged hours and sometimes continuing flying despite fatigue," the report said.
"This is a combined result of commercial pressure, organisational culture and personal attitudes. However, the survey results suggest that in most cases, pilots were not pressured to fly in adverse conditions."
Cultural concerns were also cited, and it was noted that good communication within and across the industry was key to safety.
However, it was found some larger organisations have structures and cultures that "hinder communication" and may compromise safety.
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of New Zealand president Ian Andrews said: "The biggest issue is what is going to be done about it. CAA do not listen hard enough to industry."
The CAA says it has no urgent safety concerns and the report "confirms results from CAA monitoring that the sector is experiencing rapid growth".
However, the CAA acknowledged a range of issues needed addressing, with a lack of ongoing pilot training deemed a "significant finding" and increased focus on addressing pilot experience.
"The findings don't point to an immediate threat to safety but they do highlight a number of issues that the CAA intends to work with industry to address, such as ensuring pilots take into account weather conditions before flying," a spokesman said.
"The research shows some pilots feel they don't have the experience for the particular operations they are conducting. Communication could be improved between pilots and their management, and between pilots to share experience and skills.
"[Recurrent training] is something the CAA and industry participants can actively address. CAA rules require recurrent training."
The spokesman said issues like pilot fatigue and some pilots feeling pressure to fly were "of moderate concern".
The review process involved interviews with Government agencies including the Ministry of Transport, Department of Conservation and the Tourism Industry Association. Online surveys of operators were also conducted.