NZALPA’s legal team, assisted by noted barrister Hugh Rennie QC, has appeared at the Supreme Court regarding the right to maintain the recent Court of Appeal decision for the Director of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to reconsider his review of the 90-metre safety area for an extended Wellington Airport runway.
This Supreme Court appeal action, brought by both Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL) and the CAA, is considering whether the Court of Appeal decision was correct in three areas.
The NZALPA submission lists these as follows. First, what is the meaning and effect of the wording of the New Zealand legal requirements for Runway End Safety Areas (RESA) at international airports? Secondly, can the Director of Civil Aviation read down that wording to include individual discretionary modifications of it by him? Finally, was the Director's March 2015 conditional decision on WIAL's application made in error of law?
NZALPA maintains that the Court of Appeal's decision was correctly decided, that the appeal should be dismissed, and the Director be directed to reconsider his March 2015 decision should WIAL maintain that application.
Although this case is regarding the Wellington Airport’s runway extension proposal, the New Zealand Airports Association, which Wellington Airport is a prominent member of, joins the CAA in its concern that the Court of Appeal decision could also affect long-haul flights into airports throughout New Zealand.
In its submission, NZALPA maintains that a 90-metre safety area, or RESA, would not be acceptable for the proposed WIAL runway extension given that most aircraft accidents occur during landing and take-off. These include incidents where the aircraft "undershoots" (lands or takes-off short of) or "overruns" the end of the runway.
The risk of such incidents, the submission says, can be likened to that of an earthquake. Although the likelihood of an undershoot or overrun is low when compared to the total volume of air traffic the consequences can be catastrophic.
The evidence states, for example, that a landing undershoot incident at Wellington Airport would likely result in the death of all on board.
One critical safety measure to mitigate the risk of an overrun or undershoot incident is to provide a RESA. The purpose of RESA is to provide an area at the end of the runway within which an overrunning or undershooting aircraft can come to a stop, thus reducing damage to the aircraft and maximising the safety of those on board. RESAs must be a cleared and graded area but do not have to be constructed to the same specifications as a runway.
In aviation, there is zero tolerance of any risk to safety, NZALPA said. This reflects that air passengers concede personal civil rights (for example search, seizure, obedience to crew directions, freedom of movement and demeanour). They are wholly dependent on the safe operation of the aircraft which they board.
Unlike, for example, medical treatment, passengers receive no information about risk and give no informed consent to safety hazards.
The Supreme Court is currently considering its decision.
Meanwhile, NZALPA has been advised that the Environment Court hearing of WIAL’s application for resource consents associated with the runway extension has been adjourned indefinitely.