Sunday, March 11, 2012

Flight triggered warning in cockpit

LATEST: A departing Pacific Blue aircraft triggered a cockpit warning most pilots would not encounter in their entire careers, an expert witness told the Queenstown District Court today.

A 54-year-old pilot, of Papakura, appeared for the sixth day of a defended hearing before Judge Kevin Phillips.

The pilot, who has interim name suppression, has denied operating a Boeing 737 in a careless manner on June 22, 2010, a charge laid by the Civil Aviation Authority.

CAA allege the pilot should not have taken off for Sydney after 5.14pm because Pacific Blue rules stipulated departing aircraft at Queenstown needed at least 30 minutes before civil twilight at 5.45pm.

The aircraft departed at 5.25pm.

Expert witness Colin Glasgow, a former commercial airline pilot, Air New Zealand chief pilot and CAA airline inspector, told the court Queenstown Airport was categorized 'x', the highest of a four-level system, because of the terrain, gusting winds, a narrow runway, the then lack of runway lights and no radar.

Pilots flying in and out of Queenstown were required to undergo specific training, including flying with an examiner.

The departure route was an approved flight path over the Frankton arm, around Deer Park Heights to a reference point between the hill and The Remarkables, after which the aircraft could engage instruments and ascend into cloud.

Visual rules for the initial takeoff segment were designed to enable a pilot to deal with an emergency before the reference point, when there was no going back.

A minimum altitude was specified for the aircraft between Deer Park Hts and The Remarkables, to ensure aircraft could climb safely over the Southern Alps if an engine failed.

"As he was leaving when he did he would not be able to land the aircraft before light faded completely.

"He took away [the return to Queenstown] procedure if a malfunction occurred during this critical stage of flight.''

The aircraft descended slightly after takeoff, triggering an automatic "don't sink'' warning and "cut a corner'' flying around Slope Hill instead of directly overhead, the court was told.

As the craft turned around Deer Park Hts, it banked up to 30-degrees, when normal aircraft banking was typically 15-degrees.

This manoeuvre triggered an automatic cockpit "bank angle'' warning, a scenario that can lead to stalling.

"Pilots will fly an entire career and not hear this warning other than in a simulator.

"Being able to safely navigate terrain and avoid other aircraft depended on the ability to see through the visual segment, he was struggling to do that.''
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The aircraft did not reach minimum altitude between Deer Park and The Remarkables, a manouevre designed to allow enough climbing performance to ascend to more than 9000 feet and clear the Southern Alps.

"Failure to reach altitude created a real risk that an engine failure after [the reference point between Deer Park and The Remarkables] meant he would not have achieved enough altitude to fly over The Alps.

"He only just managed to make 9000 feet with both engines.''

The hearing continues.

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