This weekend up to 30 New Zealanders will begin the sad journey to the coast off Perpignan in the south of France.

They are relatives and friends of five Kiwis who died when an Airbus A320, about to be handed back to Air New Zealand from a charter airline, crashed into the sea 10 years ago.

Relatives have been back before with Air New Zealand chiefs to unveil a memorial and on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, which happened almost exactly 29 years after the airline suffered its worst disaster on Mount Erebus.

Air New Zealand chief flight operations and safety officer David Morgan is leading the group this year to commemorate the November 28, 2008 tragedy and says it's the right thing to do for the families. Remembering can also make flying safer.

Advertisement

''It's very important for the families that we acknowledge and reflect on what's occurred here. We have an obligation to remember," he said.

''The important part of accidents such as Perpignan and Erebus is acknowledging that these events occurred but [also] understanding why they occurred and what we can learn from them.''

There will be a service on the Canet foreshore at a memorial facing directly out to the site where the plane nose-dived into the sea. Engraved in a pounamu plaque are the men's names:

Captain Brian Horrell, 52, engineers Murray White, 37, Michael Gyles, 49, and Noel Marsh, 35, and Civil Aviation Authority airworthiness inspector Jeremy Cook, 58. German pilots Norbert Kaeppel, 51, and co-pilot Theodor Ketzer, 58, were also killed.

The plaque reads: "In memory of the five New Zealanders and two Germans who tragically lost their lives while flying off the coast from Canet Plage on 27 November 2008. Forever in our hearts and in our memories.''

After the service relatives will, weather permitting, board boats and head to the site of the crash, 7km off the coast, where they will lay a wreath at the exact time of the crash, 4.46pm local time.

Morgan, who knew the Air New Zealand crews, recalls getting the call 10 years ago from another staff member on the ground at Perpignan as he was leaving home for work early on the Friday morning.

''I couldn't quite understand what was being said to me over the phone,'' he said.

Advertisement

He had to ask the caller to repeat what he'd told him.

Captain David Morgan near Air NZ's Momentum monument where air crashes are remembered. Photo / Greg Bowker
Captain David Morgan near Air NZ's Momentum monument where air crashes are remembered. Photo / Greg Bowker

''I knew immediately that we had a major issue on our hands and a tragedy."

Morgan invoked an emergency management system that provides support for relatives, help for those in the airline who need it and a way of handling media inquiries.

''The next thing I did was ring my boss at the time, Rob Fyfe, and advise him. The whole process kicked in from there with the focus on the staff on the ground and the families of the victims.''

Ensuring more than 10,000 other staff were supported by its own crisis management team was critical.

''You've got to remember there's 100 and something other aircraft in the fleet being operated and with an organisation that is distracted it's incumbent on the system to pivot and support the rest of the business to make sure that everybody else stays safe.''

Fyfe did three media conferences on the day of the crash and his empathetic handling of the tragedy won praise and was a factor in his appointment as an independent adviser on the manned Pike River re-entry.

Morgan said Air New Zealand had to establish quickly whether there were implications for the rest of the fleet but it became clear quickly it was associated with the particular flight.

The aircraft was undergoing a series of tests and manoeuvres before being handed back from XL Airways after a two-year lease.

Morgan said the responsibility of helping run the airline weighed heavily. While flying was getting safer there were inherent risks.

Wreckage from the Air New Zealand A320 which crashed off France 10 years ago. Photo / 3 News
Wreckage from the Air New Zealand A320 which crashed off France 10 years ago. Photo / 3 News

''In this case [it was] a test flight and you're effectively putting people in harm's way. You have to think very deeply about these types of operations and these types of events.''

Investigators from France's Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses, in its final inquiry report into the crash near Perpignan, found there were faults in the handover check programme, there was confusion and a heavy workload on the flight deck and critically, two of three angle of attack sensors that feed crucial data weren't working.

The plane had been washed down rather than dusted after being repainted in Air New Zealand's livery and leftover water froze at 10,000m.

The crew didn't know that when they began to conduct a low-speed recovery test at low altitude. Just over a minute after a stall warning alarm sounded, the plane plunged into the sea.

Morgan said the whole industry had learned more about handover processes after charters, maintenance procedures had been reviewed and more tests were now taking place on the ground. Test flying was inevitable, though.

''We still do quite a few operational proving flights and test flying in the airline - we have to do that to make sure the aircraft is airworthy and certified before we put the customers back on the aircraft.''

Problems with angle of attack sensors have been linked to the crash of the Lion Air plane off Indonesia in October, although the cause of that crash hasn't been finally established.

Morgan, who is the chairman of the International Air Transport Association's operations committee, said airlines were pushing manufacturers and systems designers to develop and install more technology to mitigate the failure of sensors.

''There is technology out there that we have on our aircraft, the 787 in particular.''

He said that planes weren't foolproof, flying was low risk, although there were high consequences if it went wrong.