CAA’s safety camera call

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A top aviation official is backing a call to install equipment that could make Queenstown departures safer. 

Mark Hughes, general manager of airlines for the Civil Aviation Authority, says the idea of putting a camera on the southern side of Deer Park Heights would help pilots see any bad weather that might otherwise be hidden by the mountain. 

Hughes was in Queenstown District Court last week giving evidence during a defended hearing for a Pacific Blue pilot charged with operating an aircraft in a careless manner. The charge stems from a June 2010 take-off in windy, dark conditions. 

Hughes also told the court about an unrelated Pacific Blue departure in July 2011 that was subsequently investigated by CAA. 

In this case, the pilot was operating within the daylight curfew rules and weather conditions were above minimum requirements, but he flew into bad weather situated behind Deer Park Heights – because he couldn’t see it from the runway. 

“It just highlights that Queenstown is a special category airport, it’s a critical airport, and even when you’re following all the limitations you could still encounter challenging situations,” Hughes told the court. 

The CAA investigator who looked into the July 2011 take-off recommended that a camera be installed so Queenstown Airport’s air traffic control and pilots can see more of the Wakatipu basin before leaving the runway. 

“I don’t disagree with that – that would be an added piece of information, for sure,” Hughes says. 

Outside court, Hughes told Mountain Scene it would be up to Airways Corporation to decide if a camera is needed. 

“But we would certainly support that,” he says. 

An Airways spokeswoman says the organisation would require consultation with CAA, the airlines and Queenstown Airport. 

A CAA spokeswoman says there’s nothing formally underway. 

Queenstown Airport’s new CEO Scott Paterson says he’ll follow it up with CAA and Airways: “It is important to note the land in question is privately-owned so we are conscious of not getting ahead of ourselves.” 

The hearing for the accused pilot – who has interim name suppression – adjourned last Thursday and is likely to 
reconvene at the end of May or June, when the defence case will begin.