Wellington regional coroner Ian Smith queried today whether New Zealand's starting age of 16 for pilot training was set too low.

However, CAA spokesman John McKinlay said it was in line with international practice and up to the judgement of a qualified and competent flight instructor.

The question came on the first morning of the inquest into the deaths of two teenagers and a 30-year-old in a mid-air crash above Paraparaumu.

Those who died were the solo pilot of a Cessna light plane, Bevan Hookway, aged 17, and the occupants of a Robinson helicopter - student pilot James Taylor, 19, and the experienced rescue pilot testing him, David Fielding, 30.


Bevan Hookway, who was studying aviation, was sufficiently skilled and competent to fly solo, the coroner was told.

Mr Smith said he was "a little surprised'' that Bevan, who had only five hours solo (experience), was flying from "such a massively busy airport like Paraparaumu.''

He was concerned about placing young people with very limited flying experience alone at the controls.

Mr McKinlay said that over the years "we have thousands of student pilots through this process and it has been successful.''

It was up to the judgement of the flight instructor, and risks needed to be recognised and mitigated, he said.