The qualifications claimed by a former Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) inspector have been under scrutiny by the media recently and have also followed a number of questions being asked within the industry.
Fairfax/Stuff reporters from both The Press in Christchurch and Wellington’s Dominion Post were following up on concerns they had received about Paul Mitchell Jones, a senior CAA inspector who played a critical role in a court battle involving the authority. As a flight operations inspector, he has conducted safety checks and inquiries throughout New Zealand, including an investigation into the 2015 Fox Glacier crash that killed seven people.
The recent media inquiry, led by reporter Julian Lee, described Jones as a controversial figure within the aviation industry and said that his work had attracted serious concerns from superiors. This also included allegations that he was not as qualified as he claimed.
In a recent court affidavit Jones conceded he overstated his flying status, admitting he did not have an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL), for both aeroplanes and helicopters, as stated in his CV. In fact, the report said, he had neither, although he had flown the requisite hours.
The report explained that an ATPL is the highest licence a pilot can earn in New Zealand and enables the holder to attain the status of captain. Helicopters and aeroplanes have separate licences and Jones claimed to have earned the two in the late 1990s.
It was reported that he claimed to have flown 7500 hours in both planes and helicopters. The requirement for an ATPL is a minimum of 1500 hours of flying time.
In 2013, Jones taught at the CTC Aviation School as an ATPL instructor when he did not have the qualification either. CTC, which is part of an international aviation training company, said the licence was not a prerequisite to teach the course.
The affidavit came to light in court where CAA was challenged by helicopter company Helilogging , when their commercial helicopter logging operations were stopped by the authority in 2005. The CAA considered that Helilogging’s Westland Wessex helicopter as unsafe for that operation, Lee reported.
The Court of Appeal in May allowed an appeal by Helilogging against a High Court decision striking out its claim against the CAA. The CAA is appealing the decision.
In the articles, Lee noted that Jones' other claims of past experience also appear to be overstated. In 2014, he claimed he "flew in Northern Ireland with 72 Squadron" in the British Royal Air Force.
Before 72 Squadron was disbanded in 2002, it had a reputation as one Britain's most famous squadrons, distinguishing itself in both world wars and in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
Jones was said to have revised the claim in his later affidavit to say he was actually a member of 655 Squadron that was stationed next to 72 Squadron at RAF Aldergrove near Belfast. He said he had flown in exercises with 72.
While 72 flew Wessexs, 655 flew Lynxs, although Jones now claims he flew Wessexs in exercises with 72 Squadron.
In another claim, Jones said he had been a test pilot for all mission systems for the AW 159 Wildcat. He later admitted he flew the simulator "as all mission systems were trialled in the simulator before they were integrated into the actual airframe of the aircraft".
When Lee approached the former inspector for his side of the story, Jones said he was not able to comment on any of the discrepancies in his two statements to the court.
Jones, Lee reported, resigned from the CAA earlier this year.
Through a spokesperson the CAA said they were convinced safety had not been jeopardised in the wake of these claims.
"The CAA has no concerns as to the quality of the work performed by this staff member, who was considered to be competent and knowledgeable. There are accordingly no aviation or public safety concerns arising in relation to this staff member's work.
"We agree that the public has a legitimate expectation that we can demonstrate that staff who occupy a safety critical role are appropriately experienced and qualified to fulfil their roles adequately."
The spokesperson said the CAA did not want to release any more details about Jones' employment.
"While it is appropriate and necessary to provide reassurance that there are no issues of public safety arising, it is not appropriate to discuss publicly the CAA's employment relationship with any of our staff or former staff."
Speaking recently at the Aviation New Zealand Conference in Hamilton, CAA Director Graeme Harris said that he sincerely regretted that this event has occurred.
“It is certainly a case where a CAA staff member did not live up to the reasonable expectations that the public have of the state sector,” Harris said.
The published articles by Julian Lee can be found here and here.