Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand
Date 24 Nov 2011


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Senior Communications Adviser Emma Peel
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Near collision evokes key safety reminders

A report into a near collision between an aeroplane and a helicopter includes vital safety reminders to pilots and air traffic controllers, and recommendations to the CAA.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has today published its report into a near collision overhead New Plymouth Aerodrome in May 2010.

Both aircraft had been on training flights, and each had a student and an instructor on board.

At the air traffic controller’s instruction, the helicopter pilot had begun flying right-hand circuits, instead of the runway’s usual left-hand circuit, to allow for a passenger aircraft that was approaching to land (this instruction was valid for this class of airspace).

Soon after, the pilot of the training aeroplane requested to rejoin the aerodrome using a standard procedure in which the aircraft is flown overhead at a higher altitude to allow the pilot to assess the situation before descending to the same height as other aircraft in the circuit.

The air traffic controller confirmed with the aeroplane pilot that they had the helicopter in sight before allowing the procedure. As the flights continued however, the pilots on board the aeroplane both lost sight of the helicopter, but they did not advise each other or air traffic control.

The helicopter was in a climbing turn when its instructor suddenly saw the aeroplane close above and carried out a steep descent to avoid a collision.

Director of Civil Aviation Steve Douglas says the event highlights key safety messages for pilots.

"Even when pilots have been issued a clearance by an air traffic controller, they are responsible for their own separation. Pilots do that by keeping a good lookout, and by listening to radio calls to build a mental picture of where other aircraft are.

"Air traffic controllers can provide a great deal of help. If you have lost sight of other traffic, speak up. A couple of radio calls can quickly resolve a situation before it gets dangerous.

"This report raises matters for other parts of the aviation system. The Airways Corporation is working with the CAA to modify its procedures, and together we will review the relevant rules and guidance material to see whether improvements to clarity and consistency can be made," Mr Douglas said.

"Aerodrome operators too shoulder responsibility to ensure risks associated with specific local procedures are continually monitored, and mitigating steps are understood and practiced by all users.

"An event such as this in which no one was injured, but from which several strong safety messages can be gleaned presents a valuable opportunity for the CAA to continue its work with the aviation community, for the benefit of the public."

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