Every year in New Zealand there are dozens of aviation accidents resulting in injuries to people or damage to aircraft, and hundreds of incidents affecting safety, including near-accidents. But only some accidents result in deaths, and few fatal accidents have involved large commercial aircraft. Although there are more aircraft per capita in New Zealand than any other country in the world, the air traffic is very light. And worldwide improvements in navigation and safety equipment, aircraft construction and maintenance, air traffic control, weather forecasting and training have enhanced air safety in New Zealand. Since 1944 New Zealand has complied with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) air safety standards.
A nationwide network of radio beacons, distance-measuring equipment, and instrument landing systems at airports enables pilots to fly safely to their destinations. Air traffic controllers use radar to provide crucial advice to pilots before and during flight. Large aircraft carry sophisticated navigation equipment, and even light aircraft have some navigation aids. The latest global positioning system (GPS) involves computer conversion of signals from a network of satellites, to provide the pilot with highly accurate information on aircraft position.
Dial a disaster
New Zealanders take their mobile phones everywhere – in cars, buses, trains and increasingly, on planes. However, CAA rules forbid their use on planes for sending and receiving phone calls, text messages or emails. Cellphone signals can interfere with aircraft navigation and communication systems, with potentially disastrous results. Several incidents in New Zealand skies reinforce these findings.
The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAA) sets and monitors civil aviation safety and security standards. It is governed by the Civil Aviation Act 1990 (amended in 1992). The CAA is responsible for almost every aspect of civil aviation safety, including:
- the licensing of pilots, aircraft maintenance personnel and airlines
- designation of space in which aircraft can fly
- regulation of flight and airport operations
- certification of airports and airfields, aircraft manufacturers, aviation organisations and airways services such as weather forecasters.
A commercial company, Airways New Zealand, manages all domestic and international air traffic. In 2003 it was recognised as one of the best operations of its type in the world.
Air accident investigation
In line with ICAO standards, New Zealand formally investigates all air accidents as a first step in prevention of future disasters. The Transport Accident Investigation Commission, established in 1990, examines all aviation, rail or marine accidents, or incidents which have significant implications for transport safety. The CAA also investigates accidents and incidents.