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International Pilot Union Welcome NZ Cockpit Move

Pilots Union Applauds New Zealand Action Barring Misuse Of Accident Data

The head of the union representing most airline pilots in the U.S. has welcomed the vote taken yesterday by New Zealand's parliament to bar government from using certain data gathered in accident investigations.

"The action by parliament was preceded by an exhaustive public debate on the issue. The legislators and citizens of New Zealand are to be congratulated for coming to the conclusion that civil rights and protections against self-incrimination extend to the cockpits of commercial airliners," said Captain Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International.

The dispute dates back to the June 1995 crash of an Ansett DHC-8 (Dash-8) aircraft near Palmerston North. Four people lost their lives, and others were seriously injured. Police sought access to the aircraft's CVR, for evidential purposes and possible prosecution. The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) declined to release the CVR, and in 1997 the Court of Appeal eventually determined that the provisions of the Chicago Convention protecting CVRs were not part of New Zealand law, after which the police obtained the Ansett CVR by search warrant. This prompted a cry of protest from pilots organizations around the world.

"From the very beginning, it was well understood by all parties that CVRs are to be used exclusively for accident investigation. Airline pilots agreed to their use only because they can be a tremendously effective tool in determining the causes of accidents. Given certain guarantees of privacy and civil rights, we felt that the benefits outweighed the costs," Woerth said.

"However, pilots have had to be extremely vigilant in protecting this compromise. First, we have had to withstand numerous attempts by the news media to get access to these tapes in order to sensationalize their stories.

With the Ansett crash, though, we were confronted with an even greater threat. In an otherwise highly democratic and open society, government authorities were taking these tapes and using them as evidence in a criminal investigation. In support of our brother pilots in New Zealand, the U.S. ALPA and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations interceded to explain the history and uses of CVRs," Woerth said.

"The parliament agreed with our assessment. The vote effectively precludes the possibility that CVR tapes or transcripts will be used for such purposes in New Zealand. On the other hand, the prohibition does not protect a pilot from prosecution for offenses. It merely precludes introduction of the CVR contents as evidence," he said. ALPA represents 55,000 airline pilots at 53 airlines in the U.S. and Canada.


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