Pacific Blue pilot made the wrong decision’ to fly

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A senior flight expert believes a pilot “made the wrong decision” when he allegedly flew out of Queenstown beyond the airline’s safe daylight curfew.

Former pilot and Civil Aviation Authority inspector Colin Glasgow today (Tuesday) criticised the Pacific Blue pilot’s actions during the seventh day of a defended hearing at Queenstown District Court.

The Auckland-based Pacific Blue pilot, 54, is accused of operating a Sydney-bound Boeing 737-800 aircraft, carrying 70 passengers, in a careless manner. He has been granted interim name suppression.

While under cross examination by defence counsel Matthew Muir, Glasgow told the court that the wind gusts at the time of the June 22, 2010 flight were too strong to contemplate flying out in wet conditions.

Leading up to when the defendant flew out at 5.25pm, cross-wind gusts were 19 knots, gusting up to 27 knots. When he departed, cross-winds were at 17 knots. Pacific Blue’s cross-wind limitation to fly out in wet conditions is 16 knots.

In wet conditions, cross-winds can cause an aircraft to lose its grip from the runway.

Defence argues that the pilot was aware of the 16-knot limitation but he also knew Boeing manuals provide for a cross-wind limit of 25 knots on a wet runway.

Glasgow: “I don’t know what was going through [the pilot’s] mind at the time, all I’m saying is it didn’t look very good to me and I would personally not have gone.”

While gusts from a strong southerly front were reducing, they were still above the Pacific Blue limit, he adds.

“From my personal opinion I believe they came to the wrong decision.”

Defence also argues that the pilot and his first officer assessed the wind sock leading up to take-off and it appeared to show wind gusts of a lesser velocity than what was being reported by air traffic control.

“Wind socks are valuable for situational awareness but pilots don’t receive any training on reading windsocks. It’s very difficult to tell the actual wind speed,” Glasgow says.

“If you put a dozen pilots together and showed them a wind sock…you would end up with 12 different answers with varying speeds.”

The defence case – which is yet to be heard – argues that when the pilot analysed the flight manual, he thought he was obliged to follow the rules that specified a requirement for a diversion to Christchurch in the event of an engine failure.

However, another part of the manual stipulated he must return to Queenstown.

If the pilot had chosen Queenstown, it’s debatable whether he would have been able to take off at all because in the event of an emergency it would have been too dark to return to Queenstown.

The pilot allegedly flew out 11 minutes after the airline manual stipulated it was safe to do so.

Muir says the defendant’s decision-making process was that of a reasonable and prudent pilot that would deliver a safe outcome.