The tragic 2015 helicopter crash in Fox Glacier that killed seven people has caused an overhaul in the way safety inspectors are trained.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) today addressed the case at a press conference in Wellington, where chairman Nigel Gould said the operators of the fatal flight misled investigators following the crash.
Queenstown pilot Mitch Gameren, 28, and six tourists were killed when the Alpine Adventures' AS350 Squirrel helicopter he was flying on a scenic trip plunged into a deep crevasse in the glacier on November 21, 2015.
The tourists were Australians Sovannmony Leang, 27, and Josephine Gibson, 29, as well as Cynthia Charlton, 70, husband Nigel Charlton, 66, Andrew Virco, 50, and his partner Katharine Walker, 51, all from the UK.
It is not yet known what caused the crash, but Gould said other operators had decided not to fly that day due to the weather conditions.
After the crash, CAA suspended the Air Operating Certificate (AOC) of Alpine Adventures' managing director and owner James Patrick Scott, grounding his 15-strong helicopter fleet.
In investigations carried out in the days after the crash, the CAA initially believed Alpine Adventures was safe to continue flying, but as the investigation carried on, it became clear they were not being given the full picture, Gould said.
"As we investigated further we became aware that there were discrepancies between what the operator was telling us and what our investigators were unearthing."
He said inspectors were "too trusting" and were sometimes taking a "soft approach" to the operators they were investigating.
They discovered Scott and his company had previously misled CAA officers on "multiple occasions".
The CAA carried out an internal review and have since changed the way they recruit and train inspectors, and have lifted the number of inspectors available to oversee helicopter operations from two to eight.
The two who were working at the time may have had heavy workloads overseeing the 100 helicopter operations in the country, and that could have affected the scrutiny they provided, said deputy-director of general aviation Steve Moore.
Those inspectors were no longer with the CAA, and Gould said they would not comment on whether they were fired.
Training for inspectors now emphasised the need to verify information provided by operators, rather than accepting assurances.
"Our training for inspectors now places a strong focus on the need for inspectors to rigorously report their findings," Gould said.
The CAA believed the changes they had made since the crash had been successful, and said despite the stronger scrutiny on operators, prosecutions had not risen.
In 2016, the CAA charged Scott and quality assurance manager Barry Waterland's company, Aviation Manual Development (2009) Ltd under the Health and Safety in Employment Act legislation.
The Christchurch District Court heard on Friday Scott and Aviation Manual Development had accepted eight practicable steps where they failed to ensure the safety of staff and passengers.
CAA lawyer Stephanie Bishop said their failure to comply with technical requirements, to have adequate training procedures, weight and balance policy, and proper supervision, had carried a risk of serious harm, namely a helicopter crash.
Scott's operation also had a history of training and supervision issues, Bishop said.
Scott and Aviation Manual Development earlier this year pleaded guilty to failing to take all practicable steps to ensure no action or inaction of any employee while at work harmed any other person. The maximum penalty is a $250,000 fine.
They pleaded guilty on the basis their failings had not caused the crash.
Gould said the charges and sentencing would send out a strong message to other operators to take their responsibilities "very seriously".
Scott has made voluntary reparation payments of $125,000 to each of the seven families, totalling $875,000.
Moore could not say how widespread the issue of operators lying to or misleading inspectors was, but that they were always dealing with operators "trying to pull the wool over our eyes".
Since the new training kicked in several years ago, the CAA has received more complaints from operators that they are having to comply with requirements they didn't have to bother with before, which was a sign the inspectors were taking a harder approach.