Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Judge accused of mocking aviation experts

The judge who oversaw a case that led to a Pacific Blue pilot being convicted of flying out of Queenstown outside of Civil Aviation Authority rules mocked the expert witnesses who gave evidence, an aviation commentator says.

Peter Clark said that while he accepted Judge Kevin Phillips' decision, he was concerned with the judge's criticism of expert witnesses in his written decision.

"I don't think he has any right to do that. These guys are called as experts and say what they think."

Air New Zealand pilot and instructor Captain Stewart Julian and Captain Frederick Douglas were called as defence witnesses in support of pilot Roderick Gunn.

Gunn was fined $5100 for carelessly operating a Sydney-bound Pacific Blue plane with 70 people on board in dark conditions and outside the airline's and Civil Aviation Authority flight rules on June 22, 2010.

He was also ordered to undertake extensive training before renewing his license and not to operate as a pilot in command of flights in and out of Queenstown for 12 months.

In his decision, the judge rejected evidence given by Mr Douglas and Mr Julian and questioned their objectivity and independence.

"It seems this judge has something against pilots," Mr Clark said.

"He doesn't like what they do and how they make a decision and how they go about implementing their decision."

He appeared to be mocking the expert witnesses, he said.

Pilots made correct decisions 99.9 per cent of the time based on safety as they, too, wanted to get home.

Mr Clark was also surprised that the judge had suggested peer pressure or pressure from Gunn's employers might have been a factor in the takeoff.

"It's the normal pressure of running any business. Everyone has pressure but to blame that as an endemic problem ... he doesn't know that. He has no idea."

Defence counsel Matthew Muir said he had not spoken to Gunn since the sentencing although Gunn was greatly relieved that he was not disqualified from flying.

He declined to comment on the judge's criticism of expert witnesses.

"I don't think it would be appropriate to comment on that issue while the position in respect of any appeal remains as it is, which is no instruction."

Few of the organizations involved were prepared to comment yesterday.

Airways NZ spokeswoman Philippa Sellens said the business, which is responsible for air traffic controllers, was satisfied it had acted entirely within regulatory guidelines during the incident.

New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association president Glen Kenny said the association was reviewing the court decision and would not make any further comment until the next course of action, if any, was determined.

The Civil Aviation Authority and Air New Zealand declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Australia, the owner of Pacific Blue, said the company accepted the decision of the court and would not go into further detail. 


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