A major row has broken out between Air New Zealand and the police after claims of drink-driving staff and a drinking culture.

A pilot, a flight attendant and mechanics are among those caught drinking and driving - two while on their way to work.

The pilot was 2 times over the legal limit when he was stopped by a booze bus. It was the fourth time he had been caught drink-driving.

In an internal email in December, referring to a meeting with the airline 18 months earlier, the head of Waitemata road policing, Superintendent John Kelly, dubbed the behaviour "an apparent drink-drive problem" within Air NZ.

He also told national road policing manager Paula Rose that police and Air NZ needed to "try and address what may be a culture which accepts alcohol consumption, prior to working, as acceptable".

He warned "this may be the tip of the iceberg".

Internal police documents released to TV3 showed there were at least six incidents of drink-driving involving a total of four Air NZ staff between 2007 and last year.

The internal police memos were released under the Official Information Act.

Mr Kelly wrote he was to meet Air NZ's top legal representative. "They are very scared of this sort of thing going public, I suspect."

In a letter to Police Commissioner Howard Broad last night, Air NZ chief Rob Fyfe said the claims were "unsubstantiated and ill-considered".

Mr Fyfe criticised the "loose language" and called on Mr Broad to "clarify" the situation.

"I believe Air NZ and the New Zealand public deserve, and should reasonably expect, a much higher standard of fact and substance before senior police officers release comments in the public domain which serve to undermine confidence in Air NZ and our commitment to the safety of staff and passengers."

Mr Fyfe said the claim about a drinking culture within the company did not stand up, given that only a handful of staff had been identified among around 12,000 employees.

That was an incident rate of 0.03 per cent, compared with the rate of around 1.0 per cent across the NZ population.

"This suggests to me that, rather than a drink-drive problem at Air New Zealand, the available facts suggest that the application of the drug and alcohol policies that are in force at Air New Zealand have led to an improvement in the drink-drive culture as compared to that which is evident across the New Zealand population at large," Mr Fyfe wrote.

Mr Broad released a statement last night supporting Mr Kelly.

"The information Superintendent Kelly had was sufficient for him to decide that he ought to discuss the matter with the Air NZ administration to ensure that Air NZ had appropriate policies in place."

However, he also said that "the numbers involved are a small percentage of all of Air NZ employees".

The drink-drive incidents included a flight attendant caught in full uniform on her way to work for a flight to Rarotonga.

Air NZ spokeswoman Tracy Mills last night confirmed the flight attendant later lost her job.

However, asked about the other staff found to be driving over the legal limit, she said the company was unable to comment on individual employees.

Air NZ's group general manager for people, Vanessa Stoddart, said it had previously made two applications to police under the Official Information Act for information on staff involved in drink-driving on their way to work.

The EPMU union said last night that it supported Air NZ and had itself complained about police action after the flight attendant - one of its members - was sacked last year.

National secretary Andrew Little said the woman was charged and went through the court system "as usual".

But police then felt it was right to tell Air NZ, because she had been on her way to work.

"That was unnecessary and, in my view, the police are trying to fabricate a reason for doing that by creating this so-called drinking culture.

"The onus is on the police administration now to face up. If they're going to make these great allegations then they need to substantiate them. I take a pretty dim view of it."