Pacific Blue pilot found guilty of aircraft endangerment

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A New Zealand court has found a Pacific Blue pilot guilty of carelessly operating an aircraft while taking off on a trans-Tasman flight from Queenstown in 2010.

The pilot, whose name has been suppressed, was charged by New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority with breaking a number of regulations and unnecessary endangerment while taking off from Queenstown in a Boeing 737-800 bound for Sydney on 22 June 2010.

The pilot was accused of departing from Queenstown at a time when it was not permitted under Pacific Blue's policy on twilight departures there. He was also accused of departing when cross-winds were above the allowed threshold and flying out in cloud that obscured terrain, which is required to be seen by the pilot during take-off.

In addition, the pilot is said to have briefed the first officer to divert to Christchurch in the event of an engine failure, whereas Pacific Blue's procedure was to return to Queenstown.

Following a highly technical trial that has stretched over three years, Queenstown District Court judge Kevin Phillips was quoted in media reports as saying that he was satisfied that "no reasonable and prudent pilot...would have commenced the take-off roll".

He added that the pilot was "careless in his manner of operating the aircraft" and that he "ignored the mandatory requirements and, in their place, used his planned self-designed contingency."

A date for sentencing the pilot has not yet been set, but the CAA previously indicated that he may face a fine of up to NZ$10,000 ($8,260) or up to 12 months in prison.

The New Zealand Airline Pilots' Association (NZALPA) issued a brief statement saying that it is "disappointed with the verdict handed down", adding that the "three-year judicial process has been very difficult for the pilot and the family".

NZALPA added that it does not wish to make any further comment on the case" as this may prejudice the pilot's ability to launch an appeal".

Pacific Blue is a New Zealand-based subsidiary of Virgin Australia which operates most of the Australian carrier's trans-Tasman services.