Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter. As of April 2020 Uplink ALPA is a 6-monthly publication.

Hard fought win in Court of Appeal a triumph for aviation safety

Wellington International Airport (Photo credit: Bob Leask)

Wellington and industry media were abuzz this month with news of the Court of Appeal decision that found in NZALPA’s favour and means that the Director of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will need to reconsider his review of the 90-metre safety area for an extended Wellington Airport runway. 

NZALPA President Tim Robinson said he was delighted with the decision and again reiterated to national media outlets that:

 “As commercial pilots and air traffic controllers, our members have much to gain from an increase in flights landing and leaving from Wellington Airport, but not at any cost – especially if that cost is to the safety of passengers, local people, and airport staff.” 

This decision sets aside that made by the High Court on 20 March 2015 and led one seasoned journalist to write “thanks goodness for the Air Line Pilots Association (sic).” 

NZALPA, which was represented at the Court of Appeal by Hugh Rennie QC, was clear in its submission to the Court that this appeal was not about lack of union consultation, but that the conclusion by the CAA Director  to not review the runway extension safety area (RESA) was ‘legally and technically flawed’.

NZALPA had sought appeal on the grounds that Her Honour Clark J, in her original High Court decision, did not make the requested declaratory judgement as to the meaning of the applicable CAA Rule.

“Under international aviation safety requirements, and the CAA’s own rules, a RESA shall be, if practicable, 240 metres, or alternatively an internationally recognised safety system equivalent known as an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) could be used,” Robinson said.

An EMAS is a crushable cellular material installed on an existing RESA to decelerate an aircraft in an emergency. It has already been successful in stopping aircraft and saving lives in incidents at both New York’s John F. Kennedy and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airports, among others.

Instead the Court heard that:

  • The CAA Director incorrectly adopted a cost-benefit test for Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL) to determine whether a 240-metre RESA was “practicable”
  • The Director incorrectly limited his consideration to the proposal as defined by WIAL and did not consider the possibility of installing an arrestor system; and
  • The Director incorrectly limited his consideration to the proposal as defined by WIAL and did not consider a reduction of the declared distances of the proposed runway extension to provide for a RESA of 240 metres. 

In addition to the Court of Appeal action, NZALPA offered further evidence for its serious concerns in a submission to the Wellington runway extension consent process under the Resource Management Act.

NZALPA’s submission included an affidavit from an international aviation safety expert who had worked on award-winning airport runway safety systems around the globe, including Hong Kong’s Wind Shear and Turbulence Warning Safety Systems, which are considered among the most sophisticated in the world.

The affidavit stated that financial losses if just one [Boeing] B777 or [Airbus] A330 aircraft were to overrun the runway and the 90-metre RESA with substantial fatalities, would more than outweigh the quoted construction cost, ‘…without taking into account the human cost’.

Meanwhile, as this issue of Uplink went to print, NZALPA has lodged a formal request with the Environment Court for an adjournment of the Resource Management Act consents process regarding WIAL’s runway extension application.

With the hearings set down for June, NZALPA explained that, in the circumstances, it would be unfair to the 274 parties who have lodged submissions and would therefore be inefficient for the hearing to proceed. It asked for the WIAL application to be adjourned until such time as the CAA Director had made his decision and WIAL has decided whether to abandon or modify its current application, or proceed as it is.

The WIAL is yet to decide whether they will appeal the NZALPA Court of Appeal decision.

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