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.

TAIC, regulatory change and air accident investigation – a golden opportunity

NZALPA Senior Technical Officer Dave Reynolds responds to the article by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, which appeared in the August issue of Uplink.

The article “TAIC aims for no repeat accidents, ever” by Stephen Davies Howard of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) spelled out that organisation’s genesis and its current role as New Zealand’s independent transportation accident investigative body. TAIC is a body with a very clear mandate and one which is clearly not lacking in its legal powers to perform this role. 

Refreshingly in aviation, TAIC does not accuse, blame, seek retribution nor attempt to place liability. As Stephen states, it “determine[s] the circumstances and causes of significant aviation accidents and incidents with a view to avoiding similar occurrences in the future, rather than to ascribe blame”. Its role is significantly different then to any organisation established to regulate and/or police the industry - such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

It also fulfils our international obligations as signatories to the United Nation’s Convention on International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - in particular its Annex 13 entitled ‘Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation’ which clearly states that “The sole objective of the investigation of an accident or incident shall be the prevention of accidents and incidents. It is not the purpose of this activity to apportion blame or liability”. This is very similar to the stated objective of a TAIC investigation. 

Annex 13 also provides for the protection of any evidence, including data, relating to the accident, and similar protections are provided within the TAIC Act. 

So far, so good then it would seem. Well not entirely. Notice the subtle difference between a TAIC investigation in paragraph two and an accident or incident investigation under ICAO’s Annex 13 in paragraph three. ICAO does not limit investigations to only ‘significant’ accidents as TAIC does.

This means by far the majority of accidents and incidents in New Zealand are investigated by the regulator – the CAA. 

There are a number of issues associated with this approach. Firstly, if the CAA investigates it is not independent, nor is it legally prevented from apportioning blame or liability (as TAIC is). Quite the contrary. 

Another issue is that evidence relating to a CAA investigation is not protected in law as it is for a TAIC investigation. It can potentially be used as evidence in a prosecution and is also accessible to anyone who requests it. 

To be fair, in certain ICAO member states the regulator does some investigations on the basis of an agreement between the regulator and the state’s independent ICAO compliant accident investigator. However here in New Zealand, TAIC only investigates a fraction of accidents and incidents, leaving the CAA to do the majority. 

In addition, and despite TAIC’s powers to retain safety data, voice transcripts of accidents and incidents are routinely released to the press - to the frustration of NZALPA which attempts to prevent this.

It is NZALPA’s view that air accidents and incidents need to be investigated by TAIC and not CAA. Changes at CAA combined with the current Civil Aviation Bill overhaul provide a golden opportunity - a once in a generation opportunity - to move accident investigation resources from CAA to TAIC. 

We also have an opportunity to fulfill our responsibilities as an ICAO signatory and include protections in the Civil Aviation Bill for all accident related data. This could lead to us having a truly world class and comprehensive independent state aviation accident investigation body. 

We owe it to our members and our industry to push for these changes and bring New Zealand aviation into line with ICAO’s internationally agreed standards.

A BK117 helicopter being lifted from Pāuatahanui Inlet near Porirua.



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