21 Jun 2021

Former pilot convicted after flying tourists in badly damaged aircraft

1:33 pm on 21 June 2021

A former pilot has been convicted after knowingly flying a damaged aircraft with six tourists on board from Milford Sound to Queenstown.

steep coast in the mountains at milford sound, fjordland national park, southland, new zealand

The propellor on an aircraft was damaged while taking off from a beach in Milford Sound, but the pilot continued flying tourists in it. Photo: 123rf.com

Late last week, the former senior scenic aircraft pilot appeared in Christchurch District Court, where he was fined $5750 and convicted on a charge of operating an aircraft in a manner that caused unnecessary endangerment.

The aircraft's propeller was damaged by stones thrown up during a routine takeoff from Big Bay near Milford Sound in January 2010.

After arriving in Queenstown, the man failed to inspect the aircraft or even conduct a quick 'walk around', which would have revealed the damage.

Instead he flew to Milford Sound to pick up a group of tourists.

He noticed the damage while at Milford Sound and phoned head office, but did not get a response.

The pilot attempted to minimise the damage by filing down the propeller, a specialised maintenance task he was not qualified to carry out.

He flew the tourists to Queenstown without hearing if the aircraft was airworthy or cleared for the flight.

The aircraft was immediately grounded after landing.

The charges against the man were laid in 2010, but could not be pursued while the former pilot was living overseas.

Civil Aviation Authority deputy chief executive David Harrison said the conviction highlighted the importance of getting aircraft damage assessed by qualified engineers, not pilots "taking a punt".

"Taking a 'she'll be right' attitude just doesn't cut it when there's damage to critical aircraft components, such as propellers," Harrison said.

"In this case we're lucky that there weren't more serious consequences, given the seriousness of the damage to the prop."

The man was fined $4250 for operating the aircraft in a manner that caused unnecessary endangerment and $1500 for performing maintenance on an aircraft without holding the appropriate licence.

His association with the tourism operator ended shortly after the incident and he does not currently hold an active commercial pilot licence.

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