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Court of Appeal hears pilots' safety fears for WIAL runway extension
The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) today outlined its concerns to the Court of Appeal on the High Court’s decision to turn down a review of the 90-metre safety area for an extended Wellington Airport runway.
NZALPA, who was represented at the Court of Appeal by Hugh Rennie QC, were clear that this appeal was not about lack of union consultation, but that the conclusion by the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Director to not review the runway extension safety area (RESA) was ‘legally and technically flawed.
The organisation, whose membership covers the large majority of New Zealand’s commercial pilots and all of New Zealand’s air traffic controllers, sought appeal on the grounds that Her Honour Clark J, in her original decision, did not make the requested declaratory judgement as to the meaning of the applicable CAA Rule.
“Under international aviation safety requirements and the CAAs own rules a RESA shall be 240 metres, or alternatively an internationally recognised safety system equivalent known as an Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) could be used,” NZALPA President Tim Robinson said today.
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 amongst 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 today’s Court of Appeal action, NZALPA has offered further evidence for its serious concerns in its 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 – considered amongst the most sophisticated system available 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 90m RESA with substantial fatalities, [it] would more than outweigh the quoted construction cost, ‘…without taking into account the human cost.’
“As we’ve consistently said, 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,” Tim Robinson said.