Pilot’s careless actions increased the risk of tragedy occurring’

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The pilot guilty of operating a commercial jet aircraft carelessly in Queenstown has been told his actions were arrogant and “increased the risk of tragedy occurring”.

Auckland-based Roderick Gunn, 55, has escaped disqualification from flying but has been fined $5100 plus court costs during his sentence in Queenstown District Court today.

He must undertake extensive retraining, to be overseen by Air New Zealand captain and expert witness in the case Stu Julian. He is also barred from being a pilot-in-command of a flight in and out of Queenstown for 12 months.

Gunn, a pilot with more than 30 years’ commercial flying experience, is the Pacific Blue captain who flew out of Queenstown Airport in dark, wintry conditions in his Sydney-bound Boeing 737-800 on June 22, 2010. He was found guilty two weeks ago by Judge Kevin Phillips. Interim name suppression was lifted at the conclusion of his sentence.

Gunn has been stood-down from flying since the incident.

During sentencing, Judge Kevin Phillips told Gunn that despite his exemplary career, he showed a “wilful disregard” for the aviation rules he was bound by.

“There was an arrogance in that your experience and abilities would overcome rules of law,” Judge Phillips says.

“Your actions increased the risk on your crew and increased the risk of tragedy occurring in the Queenstown area. Any accident could have been catastrophic.”

Lawyer for the Civil Aviation Authority, Fletcher Pilditch, argued prior to sentencing that Gunn should have been disqualified because that would denounce and deter any future incidents by pilots.

He also said Gunn failed to show any remorse or contrition for his offending.

Gunn’s lawyer Matthew Muir argued that Gunn’s conviction alone was a significant-enough deterrent for others in the aviation industry.

He also reasoned that Gunn has already been barred from flying for two-and-a-half years and would take a further 17 months to get a new licence. Gunn’s employment contract also included an option for dismissal if he was disqualified.

Judge Phillips’ guilty verdict follows a lengthy trial of Gunn last year.

Gunn took off from Queenstown with 64 passengers at 5.25pm, 11 minutes after the rules stipulated it was safe to do so at that time of year. That, compounded by low cloud and high cross-winds, meant that a prudent and reasonable pilot would have left the plane grounded, Judge Phillips found.

The prosecution case centred on the idea that if there was an engine failure during or immediately after take-off, the plane wouldn’t have been able to make it safely out of the mountainous basin and on to another airport.