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Fatal crash a catalyst for change

It was a tragic mid-air crash that killed two men and left behind grieving friends and family.
But the Hood Aerodrome 2019 tragedy has proved to be the canary in the coal mine of New Zealand’s uncertified and unmanned aerodromes.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission’s [TAIC] final report into the crash, was published yesterday. It has highlighted serious safety issues at New Zealand’s smaller aerodromes, leading to a raft of safety recommendations to the Civil Aviation Authority [CAA].
It was a fine day in June 2019 when the two pilots entered the landing circuit at Masterton’s Hood Aerodrome, aiming for parallel runways.
Former Wairarapa Cricket Association chair and pilot Craig McBride was the only occupant of the Tecnam microlight and had right of way as he approached the right-hand runway.
Commercial pilot Josh Christensen, also alone having just dropped off a parachutist, approached the left-hand runway in his Cessna, joining the landing circuit in a wide right turn.
The TAIC report stated the faster Cessna gained rapidly on the Tecnam, and in an overtaking manoeuvre clipped it on the right side, “striking it from above and behind”.
“The two aircraft initially tangled before separating and spiralling to the ground.”
The pilots died on impact near Hughes Line.
TAIC chief investigator of accidents Naveen Kozhuppakalam said the crash was the result of the Cessna’s failure to give way.
“The Cessna’s route was non-standard and disregarded civil aviation rules.
“But the pilot had been trained to do it this way in accordance with accepted practice at Hood Aerodrome.”
He said that unattended aerodromes were safe so long as they were well managed by appropriately qualified ground staff, and everyone observed Civil Aviation Rules.
TAIC investigator in charge of the Hood Aerodrome inquiry Ian McClelland said the non-standard approach, which had been the procedure for about five years, was initiated with good intentions.
“But the consequences had not been thought through.”
The report stated the procedure created a potential hazard for non-local pilots.
Masterton District Council, which oversees Hood Aerodrome, said the third runway was shut down in the wake of the crash and remained closed.
The report stated that while the shutdown would prevent a direct repeat of the fatal crash, it would not eliminate the potential for a mid-air collision from the two remaining parallel runways.
McClelland said in his 24 years as an air crash investigator the Hood Aerodrome inquiry was among the most comprehensive and identified not just issues relevant to Masterton but aerodromes nationally.
“We have been investigating this since the accident on June 16. It’s not a normal investigation. It has identified some far-reaching and wide-reaching issues with the aviation industry.
“Smaller aerodromes have really flown under the radar.”
He said it was concerning to find that none of the aerodrome managers had been given formal training in the role. Most managers did not have an aviation background.
The report said, in some cases, managers had been given the role based on their experience managing council green spaces.
“As one manager said, they knew how to grow and cut grass and aerodromes typically had a lot of grass.”
McClelland said every fatal crash was tragic and seemed preventable in hindsight, but the main takeaway from the Hood inquiry was the need for education.
TAIC recommendations to the CAA included educating pilots on simultaneous operations at unattended aerodromes and helping organisations such as Local Government NZ to train and support aerodrome operational and management personnel and encourage users to get more involved in aerodrome safety.
Council chief executive David Hopman said the council did not believe aerodrome managers needed an aviation background, but said it welcomed more support.
TAIC said it received a positive response from the CAA, which had accepted and committed to address all recommendations.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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