History of Civil Aviation Regulation in New Zealand

The development of civil aviation regulation in New Zealand is traced by examining the legislative blue-prints, the advisory reports of foreign experts, the resulting organisations, and the appointments of persons to exercise statutory responsibility.

1918 to 1933 – Child of Defence

During World War One, the New Zealand Government stood back as private enterprise trained pilots for the allied air forces. Responding to wartime aviation developments, and to continual lobbying by men of vision, the Government passed the Aviation Act 1918, effective March 1919. Advice was sought from a British expert, Colonel Bettington. His reports focused on the size and shape of an air force, but he also recommended “Subsidising the civil flying schools at Auckland and Christchurch”, and “Experiments with an airmail service”.

Bettington’s recommendations fell on stony ground, but the Government set up an advisory committee of its own, an Air Board, established in July 1920. Government policy, issued 25 September 1920, required this Board to “act as an Advisory Body to the Government on: Matters of Defence; Commercial Undertakings; and Aviation Generally”.

Regarding “Commercial”, the Government wanted to be advised “with respect to:

  • Companies or private individuals that may be subsidised for the conveyance of mails, passengers, etc, on approved routes
  • Inspection of privately owned machines
  • Regarding the reservation of rights of particular companies or individuals to fly for hire within prescribed areas”.

The Board comprised representatives of Defence, Post and Telegraph, Public Works, and Lands and Survey Departments. None having any knowledge of aviation, an experienced aviator, Captain T M Wilkes, was appointed Secretary to the Board. In March 1921, regulations under the 1918 Act were issued, but the Air Board ceased to function in February 1922.

The formation of the New Zealand Permanent Air Force in June 1923 was a significant step in New Zealand aviation. A position was created in Defence Department, “Staff Officer Air Services” (later “Director of Air Services”), to which T M Wilkes was appointed.

In 1928 the Government invited Air Marshal Salmond to advise on aviation. Recommendations focused on military aviation but took little effect because of the depression. Salmond recommended the establishment of 41 emergency landing grounds.

Growing awareness of aviation, however, followed events such as the importation of De Havilland Moths from 1927, and attempts to fly the Tasman in 1928. Seven aero clubs were in existence by the end of 1928, and another five the following year. The “ZK” aircraft registration scheme was started in 1929.

In 1929 Parliament passed the “Local Authorities Empowering (Aviation Encouragement) Act 1929”. It gave County Councils, Harbour Boards, etc, power to establish and maintain aerodromes.

In August 1929 Wilkes went to the United Kingdom on exchange posting, and an Englishman, Stuart Grant-Dalton filled the Director of Air Services post. Wilkes returned and resumed as Director of Air Services in October 1931. The following month, the Air Navigation Act 1931 came into force, this generating Air Navigation Regulations in June 1933.

1933 to 1947 – Teenager and Beyond


With the 1933 Regulations, the power to appoint a Controller of Civil Aviation was exercised, and on 13 June 1933 T M Wilkes was appointed (he also remained Director of Air Services). It was a small beginning, but civil aviation regulation now had its own chief, albeit shared.

In 1934 the Transport Licensing (Commercial Aircraft Services) Act 1934 came into force, heralding the beginning of regulated airline passenger services; within a little over a year four airlines were operating scheduled services.

In 1936 the Government invited Wg Cdr Cochrane, RAF, to advise on aviation. His report in December 1936 recommended setting aviation aside from the Defence Department to form a new body, Air Department, to cover both military and civil aviation.

Cochrane recommended that “Civil air transport … continue to be encouraged with the object of enabling it to take its place in the transport system of the country, and thus provide a valuable backing to the regular [air] force. The aero-club movement shall also be supported …”

The Controller of Civil Aviation now headed the Civil Aviation Branch within the Air Department. The position was filled by Wilkes. He relinquished the post in 1940 to proceed overseas. He was succeeded by J M Buckeridge, who was appointed Acting Controller of Civil Aviation through and beyond the war years, until March 1947.

1947 to 1964 – Growing to Maturity

New Zealand was among the 52 States that had signed the Chicago Convention on 7 December 1944. With 26 more ratifications received, ICAO came into being 4 April 1947.

E A Gibson was appointed to the new post of Director of Civil Aviation on 28 March 1947.

Formal actions followed with the Civil Aviation Act 1948, which:

  • Ratified New Zealand acceptance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation
  • Authorised the issue of regulations
  • Created the statutory position of Director of Civil Aviation.

The Government now invited a British team to review New Zealand civil aviation. Headed by Sir Frederick Tymms, it spent two months visiting the aviation industry and reported in November 1948. While some of the report was ignored, it provided Gibson with valuable guidance.

The Civil Aviation Regulations 1953 were gazetted in August 1953. Issued after consultation with interested parties in the aviation industry, they took into account many of the Tymms recommendations. Under these regulations the Director could now issue Civil Aviation Safety Orders and Civil Airworthiness Requirements.

A change of title followed the 1953 regulations. The Civil Aviation Branch became the Civil Aviation Administration, but remained in Air Department.

In November 1956, Gibson relinquished the post of Director of Civil Aviation. He was succeeded by Sir Arthur Nevill, who remained in the position until June 1964.

1964 to 1968 – Striking Out Alone

A new Civil Aviation Act came into force in November 1964. It provided for “appointment of a Secretary for Civil Aviation as the administrative head of the Department. It also provides for the appointment of a Director of Operations and Technical Services with regulatory powers in respect of air safety.”

For the first time a Minister of Civil Aviation portfolio was created. Hitherto, ministerial authority had rested with the Minister of Defence.

L F P Taylor served as Director of Operations and Technical Services throughout the Department of Civil Aviation period.

1968 to 1987 – Family Gathering

The Ministry of Transport Act 1968 provided for the amalgamation of the Departments of Civil Aviation and Transport. Aviation regulation was now carried out by the Civil Aviation Division (CAD).

The statutory position was now styled Director of Civil Aviation Division, and it retained responsibility to the Minister of Transport rather than to the Secretary. L F P Taylor continued in the new position. Successive appointments were I F B Walters in 1972, E T Kippenberger in 1978, and S McIntyre in 1983.

In 1984 the Government replaced quantitative air service licensing with a qualitative one; safety and financial viability were now the criteria, and this led to a major expansion in the industry, the number of operators doubling in three years.

1987 Onwards – Releasing the Apron Strings

Further drivers for change emerged – Government policies of user-pays and devolution of service provision activities. Air traffic and other services were devolved from CAD on 1 April 1987 to form a new state-owned enterprise, Airways Corporation.

In 1988, the remainder of CAD were renamed Air Transport Division (ATD).The work of another group of invited experts, the Swedavia-McGregor report, was issued in 1988. It proposed a fundamental change in regulatory philosophy. It advocated the concept of organisation approval that depended on a systems approach to management, and a culture of participant responsibility.

Director McIntyre saw much of this change through before relinquishing his position in early 1990. He was succeeded in July 1990 by R V Dalziell.

A new Civil Aviation Act came into force on 1 September 1990, embodying the Swedavia-McGregor principles. The prime purpose of the regulator now was to undertake activities to promote safety in civil aviation at reasonable cost. The Director’s position was restyled Director of Civil Aviation Safety.

The 1990 Act provided for the Minister to make rules, and a programme involving a complete re-write of New Zealand’s aviation rules was embarked upon.

ATD was significantly downsized. Government funding was reduced to about 25 percent of ATD’s budget. Fees, charges and levies on industry were introduced to cover the other 75 percent.

A significant departure from the Swedavia-McGregor report was the Government’s unwillingness to form a stand-alone body. The organisation was retained within the Ministry of Transport, and the statutory powers were vested in the Secretary for Transport. Aviation industry opposition was vociferous.

In 1991, the Government decided to create a stand-alone authority. An Establishment Board was created and legislation was drafted. The Civil Aviation Amendment Act 1992 passed into law 10 August 1992, and the stand-alone CAA was in being. Three weeks later, the first of the new Directors of Civil Aviation, K W Ward, took up his duties. He was succeeded on 2 October 2001 by J G Jones.