New Zealand Faces Air Safety Crisis

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The safety record of general aviation in New Zealand has come under scrutiny, with questions raised about the 2003 crash of a Piper Chieftain that killed eight people, including the pilot. Two others were seriously hurt. The official report on the accident was completed by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission last year, and concluded that pilot error was the most likely cause. But a report filed last week by coroner Richard McElrea cited the Civil Aviation Authority's inadequate oversight of the small charter company as a major factor. "One man, one aircraft and one part-time assistant were not a safe critical mass and the safety process of the CAA should have detected that and prevented the flight in question," McElrea said. The pilot had been cited in 20 prior incidents. On Tuesday, CAA chairman Ron Tannock vowed that the report would be heeded and changes are in the works. When the coroner's report was released last week, families of the deceased said they had no faith its findings would be heeded. Tannock said the CAA will adopt all the safety recommendations in McElrea's report. "In practice, there has been shown to be a shortfall and the lessons of the crash ... not only in terms of pilot conduct, but in terms of the regulator's role, are apparent and must be addressed," McElrea said.