Pilot’s job up in air

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The Pacific Blue pilot convicted of a careless Queenstown take-off meets his employer next week to discuss his flying future. 

But the airline’s owner Virgin Australia won’t be drawn on whether captain Roderick Gunn still has a job.
Auckland-based Gunn, 55, was sentenced in Queenstown District Court on Tuesday for carelessly operating a Sydney-bound Boeing 737-800 out of Queenstown on June 22, 2010. 

Gunn was fined $5100 and ordered to undertake extensive retraining but remains allowed to fly commercial aircraft. He must not operate as pilot-in-command on flights in and out of Queenstown for 12 months. 

During sentencing, defence lawyer Matthew Muir told the court that if Gunn was to lose his pilot’s licence as a result of his conviction then he would be dismissed by his employer. 

Gunn – a senior pilot with 30 years’ commercial aviation experience, including becoming a training captain and a flight examiner – has been stood down from flying since the incident. 

It will take him another 17 months to retrain and become fit to fly again with a renewed licence.
Gunn meets with his employer after Easter to discuss his suspension and future with Pacific Blue, Muir told the court. 

“The position with his employer is uncertain,” Muir said. 

A Virgin Australia spokeswoman yesterday refused to comment on whether Gunn would still have a job with the airline, or whether he’ll remain a training captain. 

“I couldn’t give you any further detail at this stage, I’m sorry. 

“Virgin Australia accepts the decision of the court, however will not be going into further detail.” 

Muir told Judge Kevin Phillips that Gunn has “lost face” amongst his peers and has been “publicly humiliated” throughout his trial and sentencing. 

The case had taken “a very significant personal toll” on him and his family. 

Judge Phillips told Gunn despite his exemplary career, he showed a “wilful disregard” for the aviation rules he was bound by on the dark, wintry night he flew out of Queenstown. 

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

“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.” 

Gunn took off from Queenstown with 64 passengers and six crew 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 Civil Aviation Authority claimed 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.