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Boost For Aviation Safety - Williamson

Efforts to improve aviation safety will be boosted by the Transport Accident Investigation Amendment Bill, reported back to Parliament today, Transport Minister Maurice Williamson said.

Mr Williamson welcomed the significant contribution the Transport and Environment Select Committee had made to the Bill.

"It would enable aviation accident investigators to have access to the best possible information for the purposes of preventing future accidents," said Mr Williamson.

The Bill would ensure that certain sensitive information, such as witness statements and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) information gathered by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) as part of its investigations into an accident, was protected from use for any other purpose.

"It is a question of balancing the aim of preventing future accidents with the desire to prosecute or apportion blame. The policy behind the Bill is that accident information should primarily be for safety investigation and not used as evidence for the purpose of blame or prosecution," said Mr Williamson.

"This Bill goes to the core of aviation safety. All those involved in aviation, including pilots and passengers, stand to benefit if we can ensure that accident investigation information is used for the purposes for which it is collected - that is, safety."

Mr Williamson said that CVRs had a crucial role to play in safety investigations, given that they were often the only way of knowing what was happening on the flight deck in the period immediately prior to an accident.

The recorders also involved a significant intrusion into the privacy of the flight crew. The Bill recognised this by making all CVR information immune from use in criminal or civil proceedings against flight crew, said Mr Williamson.

"The Government has a firm view on the admissibility of CVRs in air accident investigations, and I am delighted that the select committee shares that view. The committee has found that the safety information CVRs have to offer heavily outweigh the possible benefits of allowing that information to be used in court proceedings."

Mr Williamson said this did not mean that pilots were protected from prosecution.

"The police or the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) can still conduct their own interviews or use other forms of evidence against pilots to prosecute if they choose to. But the number of fatal crashes where the pilot survives and faces prosecution are extremely rare. Much more common are those accidents and incidents where the CVR offers vital safety information."

The select committee found that it was not necessary for the CAA to have access to CVRs for its investigations. Mr Williamson said this was not necessary because although TAIC had discretion over which accidents it investigated, it was extremely unlikely that TAIC would not investigate an accident involving a large aircraft.

"The focus is really on ensuring TAIC investigators have access to all the information they need. If this information is disclosed to other parties then control over the flow and subsequent use of that information may not be so readily given to TAIC in future."

Mr Williamson said the Bill would bring New Zealand legislation closely into line with Australia, and would reflect the provisions of the International Convention on Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention).

In addition, the Bill when passed would enable the Government to make it mandatory to fit and operate cockpit voice recorders in all larger commercial aircraft. At present it is necessary to rely on the airlines to install the recorders, and for pilots to turn them on."

"This Bill will go a long way to making our skies safer".

ENDS

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