18 Dec 2014

Air collision near-perfect storm - coroner

6:14 pm on 18 December 2014

A coroner wants changes to the rules for smaller aerodromes, following the deaths of three men when a light plane and helicopter collided over Paraparaumu, north of Wellington.

The findings into the deaths of David Mark Fielding, James David Taylor and Bevan Andrew Hookway in February 2008 were today released by the chief coroner.

They were prepared by Coroner Ian Smith, who held the inquest but died before the findings could be released.

Plane pilot, 17-year-old Bevan Hookaway, was making his sixth solo flight and carrying out a manoeuvre known as an overhead rejoin.

Helicopter pilot James Taylor was with his instructor, David Fielding, carrying out a manoeuvre which involved simulating an engine failure while coming into the airport.

In his findings, Mr Smith said all three men met the legal requirements for the activities they were undertaking.

He said the men died from multiple injuries sustained in the crash, which occurred when a near-perfect storm developed in the airspace near Paraparaumu.

That included the aircraft flying in opposing circuits, the removal of height separation in 2006 and possible confusion regarding radio transmissions.

Mr Smith said there was little time for the two pilots to avoid a collision.

Under civil aviation rules, certification is required for aerodromes where planes with more than 30 passenger seats land but at the time of the crash Paraparaumu Airport did not meet that threshold.

Since then, the airport's operation has expanded and about 14 months after the fatal aircrash it obtained certification.

Mr Smith said a Transport Accident Investigation Commission report into the fatal crash suggested the need for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to monitor aerodromes, particularly uncertified ones, to ensure efforts were made to promote safe management of flying activities.

However, he said the response from the CAA director was that he had limited regulatory power regarding those aerodromes.

Mr Smith said that in 2010 the CAA had reviewed all non-certificated aerodromes and developed a risk assessment tool.

He said a rule change was also proposed to give the CAA more regulatory oversight of aerodromes, particularly those which were not then certificated.

The coroner said he had seen no evidence that rule change had been brought into force but that it should be done as soon as possible.

CAA director Graeme Harris told Checkpoint making a law change was not simple.

"It's a lengthy process of consulting with people, working out what the pros and cons are," he said.

"I'm not trying to defend the length of time but you've got to acknowledge that there are constitutional concerns about making fast law."

Mr Harris said he expected the proposed law changes to go to the Minister of Transport early in the new year.

Mr Smith also recommended all New Zealand aerodromes which did not need to be certificated be required to meet minimum standards for design and for the way aircraft approached them.

Mr Smith said the Paraparaumu air crash was another example of industry self-regulation not working, and he cited the Pike River tragedy and forestry industry deaths as other examples.

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