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12 April 2024

New Zealand chopper crash report lashes regulator


A report into a 2015 New Zealand helicopter crash that claimed seven lives criticised the aviation regulator Thursday for lax oversight that allowed an inadequately trained pilot to operate scenic flights.

The Airbus AS350 chopper crashed into the South Island's Fox Glacier, killing all aboard including a New Zealand pilot, four Britons and two Australians.

Investigators found no single definitive cause for the crash but pointed to multiple failings by the pilot, operator J.P. Scott and the regulator.

Bad weather in the rugged area meant the flight should never have taken place and the conditions probably caused the pilot to misjudge the aircraft's distance from the ground, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission said.

The inquiry found the operator's training practices were "ill-defined", the pilot did not have the experience to be flying in such a challenging environment, and the aircraft was overloaded.

But it reserved its strongest criticism for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which it said knew about J.P. Scott's safety breaches but failed to act.

"The operator had been allowed to continue providing helicopter air operations with little or no intervention from the CAA, in spite of the authority having identified significant non-compliances," it said.

It raised concerns the aviation watchdog may have allowed other operators to get away with similar breaches and called for an independent review of CAA's surveillance activities.

The report presented a "confronting picture" of the regulator's lax oversight, CAA director Graeme Harris said.

But he said he had already commissioned an independent review which had found all helicopter operators complied with regulations and there were no outstanding safety issues.

The regulator had tightened up its procedures and was now "much more effective" in its oversight of the sector, Harris said.

"I can safely say J.P. Scott's operation at the time was not at all typical of the vast majority of other operators in the sector and the CAA's performance at the time was not representative of what it is now," he said.