Transport regulators are running for cover following revelations scores of safety improvements are in limbo – many relating to serious Queenstown accidents.
The website of the Government’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission, New Zealand’s supreme accident inspectorate, lists 166 outstanding safety recommendations dating back to 1993.
“This means a recommendation has been assigned to an organisation and hasn’t been implemented,” TAIC’s website explains.
Many unactioned recommendations relate to fatal accidents.
To spur regulators and operators into action, TAIC is launching a new watchlist. This will publicise “safety issues or recommendations previously highlighted which have had insufficient attention paid to them”, TAIC’s website says.On safety recommendations generally, TAIC says: “It’s important recommendations are implemented without delay to help prevent similar accidents or incidents in the future.”
Maritime NZ and the Civil Aviation Authority are likely candidates for TAIC’s watchlist – 108 outstanding recommendations sit with these regulators.
TAIC chief investigator Tim Burfoot couldn’t recall offhand how many recommendations are still outstanding but he agrees it’s a lot.
Some older recommendations have probably been superceded, he says, and others possibly actioned “but the regulator hasn’t presented the information to us”.
Other recommendations – like a major overhaul of jetboating dating from 1999 – have had a lot of work but are still tagged ‘outstanding’ because they’re not yet fully complete, Burfoot says.
Mountain Scene compiled from TAIC’s website a catalogue of 14 Queenstown accidents or incidents with 36 related safety improvements outstanding – then checked their status with TAIC marine and aviation investigators.
The marine investigator confirms his group of safety re-commendations all remain incomplete.
However, his aviation counterpart advised three Queenstown-related recommendations had been actioned but TAIC’s website wasn’t updated.
Without powers of enforcement, TAIC relies on persuading regulators and operators to heed its recommendations.
Burfoot says regulators and operators are kept fully in the loop during TAIC investigations.
“We raise safety issues and we work with various parties to get them to take action themselves.”
TAIC only makes recommendations as a last resort if the regulator or operator hasn’t taken appropriate safety actions themselves.
Burfoot cuts regulators some slack on how long it can take for safety recommendations to be implemented – sometimes years, he says.
However, he confesses to some frustration “over historical recommendations which are still open”.
TAIC makes a telling comment in a 2009 safety recommendation issued to CAA: “The continued lack of any formalised pilot mountain-flying training…has been implicit in a number of fatal mountain-flying accidents over the past 15 years with at least 29 lives lost.”
Burfoot confirms this same re-commendation had previously been made by TAIC but wasn’t actioned by CAA.
It’s been implemented now but shouldn’t have taken so long, he believes.
“In more recent years, the regulators have been very proactive, we’re working together really well with them.”
TAIC’s new watchlist will make regulators like CAA or Maritime even more proactive, Burfoot hopes.
“We’d definitely like to see operators and regulators taking a lot of safety actions without our input – that’s how the system’s supposed to work.
“The regulator’s supposed to monitor the safety of the industry,” he says.