Sunday June 11, 2006
An Ansett Dash 8 plane crashed
in June 1995 near Palmerston North killing four
By Catherine Masters
On a cold winter's night nine years ago pilot Timothy
Thompson spiralled nose down in the dark, the small plane he
was flying plummeting more than 8000 feet a minute.
The twin-engine Beechcraft Baron slammed into dense trees on
a steep slope in the Tararua ranges and smashed into pieces.
Thompson was dead at 27, needlessly so. In ensuing reports
the airline he worked for, United Aviation, was criticised
for its poor safety. The Civil Aviation Authority, too, was
under the gun, held responsible for contributing to the
accident which took the young man's life. The CAA is
responsible for monitoring air safety culture.
Investigators from the Transport Accident Investigation
Commission concluded that if the CAA had enforced
non-compliance issues raised in audit after audit of United
Aviation "the potential for this accident to occur would
have been significantly reduced".
It was a big case and sparked a ministerial inquiry. Even
though the controversial outcome of the inquiry was that CAA
practices were sound, the crash investigation report had
Lessons should have been learned within the CAA. Six years
later, when seven people from Crop and Fooddied in a crash
near Christchurch, the CAA was again implicated.
The dead pilot, Michael Bannerman, was known to the CAA.
Their contact regarding him is revealed in a coroner's
report released this month and in which the CAA, once again,
is held partly to blame.
These crashes are high profile but there are plenty of
others in which the CAA is implicated, or criticised in
crash investigation reports.
There are also three critical reports by the
auditor-general, spanning 1997 to last year and which,
again, the CAA is accused of taking little heed.
The CAA says it will adopt the 30 recommendations from the
coroner's report into the deaths of the food and crop staff.
It remains to be seen if safety improves in small airlines.
CAA chief executive John Jones, appointed one month after
September 11, at a time of upheaval in the local aviation
industry, was asked for a response. He said: "Every operator
had to be re-certificated, and there were more than 600
operators. New rules had to be completed. New surveillance
and intervention processes were being introduced.
"The new rules are in place and the important process of
reviewing them to make them even better has started."
The number of operators, aircraft, pilots, engineers and air
traffic controllers had increased significantly.
"The safety performance of New Zealand's General Aviation
operators has improved significantly, with a 39 per cent
reduction in accidents per 100,000 flying hours over the
last six years, and a 20 per cent reduction in the social
cost of accidents over the last three years. These are
"The number of incidents reported to CAA per year is up by
13 per cent because more people are bringing their concerns
to us. We are seeing the growth of a real safety culture in
General Aviation here."
additional reporting Phil Taylor
Seven cases examined