The Pacific Blue pilot accused of carelessly operating an aircraft at Queenstown in 2010 was "probably the absolute top of the tree in terms of aircraft qualifications" his lawyer told Judge Kevin Phillips in the Queenstown District Court yesterday.
The 54-year-old Auckland pilot, who has name suppression, denies the charge.
On June 22, 2010, the flight carrying 65 passengers and six crew, including the captain and first officer, took off from the resort bound for Sydney.
The Civil Aviation Authority charged the pilot in April, alleging the plane took off in near darkness, potentially endangering the 71 people on board.
Yesterday defence counsel Matthew Muir, of Auckland, said there was a "significant danger" in elevating an alleged breach of Pacific Blue's exposition to "criminality". The flight was scheduled to depart at 4.30pm, but took off at 5.25pm, meeting the "basic daylight requirements" by taking off 20 minutes before the advised Evening Civil Twilight (ECT) time.
However, it was a potential breach of the company's exposition, so it had to be proven "there was such a failure and the pilot decided in a manner that was not reasonable and prudent" to take off. Pacific Blue's exposition required take-offs to occur "at least 30 minutes prior to Evening Civil Twilight to allow for visual manoeuvring".
"The defendant will say given the range of exposition requirements, a breach of Pacific Blue's exposition at the time ... can't in itself be equated with carelessness."
He said the captain and first officer formed a departure plan "which did not involve a return to Queenstown" and the only visual manoeuvre required was between the airport and a reference point, which took about two minutes' flight time to reach.
"It had completed, we say, all the visual manoeuvres it was going to do that day ... still with 18 minutes running before Evening Civil Twilight."
Further, a "return to land scenario" would not only represent "very poor professional judgement" but it was prohibited in Pacific Blue's exposition, given there was an "alternate airport" available and suitable in terms of weather conditions.
"We are saying that the pilot was faced with conflicting messages in the Pacific Blue exposition," Mr Muir said. The hearing continues.
- Otago Daily Times