Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand
Date 09 May 2012


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Senior Communications Adviser, Emma Peel
Tel: 04 560 9646, or 027 272 3545


Fox Glacier accident – lessons for both pilots and the CAA

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission’s report on an aircraft accident at Fox Glacier in which nine people were killed provides lessons for all pilots, and for the Civil Aviation Authority.

The report into the 2010 crash, released today, makes six recommendations to the Director of Civil Aviation. These recommendations have been accepted, and work to address them is largely complete.

The accident also serves as a grave reminder to the pilots-in-command of every aircraft. The commission has found that the pilot-in-command of the parachute drop Fletcher FU24 aircraft had not carried out the correct weight and balance calculations. As a result, the aircraft was overloaded and outside its centre of gravity limits. It became uncontrollable soon after takeoff, and crashed in an almost vertical nose-down dive, killing the pilot, and four pairs of tandem skydivers.

The commission has found that the pilot had wrongly used weight and balance calculations for another Fletcher aircraft. It said:

No 2 aircraft of the same model are exactly the same, even if they look that way; therefore pilots must do weight and balance calculations for every individual aircraft.

Director of Civil Aviation Graeme Harris reminds pilots-in-command that they are responsible for aircraft weight and balance, whether flying an airliner, private two-seater or microlight.

“This is basic airmanship, taught to every student pilot. It is very sad that a critical element of pre-flight planning, which should be second nature to any pilot, appears to have been done so poorly. This is an accident that no pilot should ever forget.”

The CAA too has made significant changes. Soon after the accident it limited the number of skydivers who can be carried in Fletcher aircraft to six, and required that these passengers be individually weighed to ensure calculations are accurate.

The CAA now has much better tools with which to regulate the commercial skydiving sector. A new adventure aviation rule was introduced in November 2011, which sets higher standards and allows the CAA to maintain significantly closer oversight of these activities.

Just before the accident, the CAA had also taken steps to more tightly control the kinds of modifications that could be made to an aircraft without direct CAA inspection.

Mr Harris admits that although the pilot did not meet a basic element of good airmanship, the CAA at that time did not regulate the parachuting sector closely enough.

“In the intervening year and a half the regulatory landscape controlling these operations has been transformed. A great deal of work has been done to improve safety in this sector, and I am certain that it will.”

How the civil aviation system works in New Zealand (PDF)