Claps and cheers at breaking news of ratification of the Virgin Australia New Zealand (VANZ) collective agreement kicked off the first dynamic morning of the NZALPA Conference 2019 in Auckland last month.
Following the ratification announcement by the outgoing President Tim Robinson, Transport Minister Phil Twyford gave the Conference opening address, eagerly watched by delegates and international guests, including the National Party’s Transport spokesperson and former Minister of Commerce, Hon Paul Goldsmith. Even though they’d be having a busy day in the parliamentary chamber debating each other, both parliamentarians stayed at Conference longer than normal. There was an animated morning tea between addresses, where the politicians listened to members’ concerns and genuinely wanted to learn more about the aviation industry.
In his speech (see here), Minister Twyford praised the work of NZALPA, particularly as it worked with the Government to review the Civil Aviation Act and bring safety issues like the regulatory needs around drones to national attention. However, there is a difference between Government and Opposition positions on stricter policy to prevent more laser strikes on aircraft.
The Minister again made clear the Government’s opposition to National MP Hamish Walker’s member’s bill, due to have its first reading in Parliament soon. He said it was only recommending an increase in the penalty once the offender was caught and prosecuted.
“We recognise they (laser devices) are a malicious threat to pilots and aviation,” the Minister said. He also acknowledged that since 2016 there had been fewer devices imported, but an increase in the number of incidents.
When queried by delegates on what the Government would do if it wouldn’t support the bill, the Minister replied that instead “officials would monitor the situation” as it was still unclear what legislation would make a difference.
The difficulty, he said, was in apprehending the offender, meaning there is no “practical solution.” He did not believe increasing the penalty was the answer. This was greeted by concern from many members, especially given NZALPA’s constant call for measures to prohibit their use.
Meanwhile, when asked about the continued exclusion of Air Traffic Controllers from the new Employment Relations Act for employee rest and break provisions, the Minister said this again was difficult to legislate for, given the narrow range of workers that fall into this category and the high safety importance of the ATC role while on duty. He said that his recent exposure to bus driver rest and break concerns in the wider transport portfolio had left him keen to learn more, and he has since asked for NZALPA’s ATC Director to follow up with him on this matter.
Another ‘live issue’ for the Government was airport pricing and landing charges – something he’s regularly lobbied on by airlines. The exposure draft of the Civil Aviation Bill has a proposal that goes some way to curb these charges and he said discussion was also underway on potential changes to the Commerce Act to move to a more ‘negotiate and arbitrate’ role. Although Minister Twyford appreciated that airports were “monopolised assets” with commercial imperatives, they also had to meet public good standards and provide efficient and convenient facilities.
The Minister also confirmed there were no plans to change the Government shareholding in Air New Zealand and said the continued success of the carrier in a tough global market was something to celebrate.
National’s Hon Paul Goldsmith was more concerned about the wider transport portfolio and ensuring investment in the sector struck a good balance of infrastructure and transport options. This included the need to question the Government’s priorities when the country needed real growth in the economy and more encouragement of offshore investment, especially as he expected there would be extra borrowing, more taxes and more debt. He said he was also mindful that high expenditure was occurring although we were moving into an economic slowdown - despite exports booming.
Goldsmith urged NZALPA members to ‘instruct’ the Opposition with ideas for what National policy should be looking at, particularly concerning the Civil Aviation Bill specifically with feedback on the bill’s Just Culture provisions. Again, he said, it was important to ‘get the balance right’ and to create a regime that was not overly obtrusive but more pragmatic and which encouraged reporting.
He also understood the need for greater investment in aviation skills and training, particularly to address anomalies around the quantum of support for student pilots. He criticised the Government’s alternative strategy of investing in free access for university students for their first year of study – funding which he said could have been better spent in specific training areas.
Goldsmith also defended the High-Power Laser Pointer Offences and Penalties Bill, saying that it would send a clear message to potential offenders that the law took strikes on aircraft very seriously, hence the doubling of the penalty. He also wanted the Government to make much more progress and just “get on with it” in regard to drone safety, particularly around our airports. He said it needed a policy that addressed the critical safety issue but also embraced the development of new technologies.
When asked about ATC rest and meal breaks Goldsmith said he felt there should be more flexibility by Airways in its approach to staffing, and a continued investment in technology. Goldsmith said this would also help address the growing airspace congestion issues, which had parallels in land transport as well as in the air.
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