16 Nov 2021

CAA tells inquest it is 'significantly more effective than it was'

7:44 pm on 16 November 2021

The aviation watchdog is assuring a Christchurch coroner it has lifted its game in the six years since a helicopter crash killed seven people.

High resolution image of the wreckage of a helicopter on the Fox Glacier in 2015.

The wreckage of the helicopter in Fox Glacier in 2015. Photo: Supplied / Transport Accident Investigation Commission

Queenstown pilot Mitch Gameren, 28, and six tourists were killed when the Alpine Adventures' helicopter he was flying crashed during a scenic flight over the Westland Tai Poutini National Park in November 2015.

British tourists Andrew Virco, 50, Katharine Walker, 51, Nigel Edwin Charlton, 66, and Cynthia Charlton, 70, and Australians Sovannmony Leang, 27, and Josephine Gibson, 29, were also killed.

Coroner Marcus Elliot is this week holding an inquest into the ill-fated flight with the aim of seeing if further recommendations could prevent something similar from happening again.

In 2019, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) found there had been a slew of failings by the authority before the tragedy.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) deputy chief executive of aviation safety David Harrison told the Christchurch District Court the authority now was completely different to how it was in 2015.

"With the benefit of the training we conduct, with the benefit of the changes in the structure and in complement with the introduction of safety management systems, the way we interact with that is significantly more effective than it was," he said.

After the crash, the authority admitted it had just two inspectors monitoring operators and said its oversight should have been better.

Harrison said the team responsible for certifications, particularly for helicopter operations, has now been boosted to seven, made up of six inspectors.

An additional person acted as a flight inspector and was responsible for helicopter standards, he said.

Harrison said at the time of the crash, the authority largely relied on compliance-based systems - a one-size-fits-all approach that often missed risks some operators faced.

He said the CAA had since moved to an individualised, risk-based system to check operators were up to scratch.

Harrison said the authority now conducted more unscheduled checks on operators but admitted they were often forewarned.

The coroner's inquest is set down until Friday.

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