Queenstown Airport completes investigation of out-of-hours departure

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11 July 2017

Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) has completed its investigation into the after-dark flight which departed 13 minutes outside the airport’s consented operating hours on 20 May 2017. 

Queenstown Airport’s General Manager of Operations and Safety, Mike Clay, said that the airport had worked with Jetstar (the airline involved) and Airways (Air Traffic Control) to identify the causes of the late departure to ensure the event wasn’t repeated.

“While there were several factors that contributed to the late departure, we take full responsibility for making an incorrect decision to authorise the flight to depart.  We are ultimately responsible for upholding the airport’s resource consent and our official operating window is between 6:00am and 10:00pm unless there is an emergency. We sincerely apologise to residents who were affected,” he said.

A number of factors were found to be the cause of the late departure.

“The airport experienced significant disruptions throughout the day due to snow and ice conditions. The aircraft was delayed departing Queenstown earlier in the day because it needed to be de-iced.  This had a knock-on effect to the aircraft’s schedule and it arrived back in Queenstown 30 minutes later than originally scheduled,” Mr Clay said.

The late arrival impacted on preparations for the aircraft’s final departure which included de-icing before takeoff clearance could be given.  There was also a small delay disconnecting the aircraft from the tug unit.  The pilot and flight controllers then took other precautionary steps to ensure the late departure was approved, and this added further delays.

By this time, the 99 passengers had been on board for over an hour.  A number of the decision makers in the airport operations team had the welfare of passengers at heart in authorising the plane to depart too close to the close-off time of 10pm, resulting in a late departure.

Queenstown Airport Chief Executive Colin Keel said that while the late departure was not a safety issue, the airport appreciated that the noise it made was unacceptable for residents who were disturbed.

“Our team had the welfare of the passengers at heart, but we also have a commitment to the council and our community not to create noise outside of our consented operating hours.

“We’ve identified a number of corrective actions that we need to take which are in the process of being implemented with the airlines and the airport’s operations and Air Traffic Control teams to ensure everyone is clear and aligned about the correct procedures,” Mr Keel said.

Click here to view a summary of the investigation findings and corrective actions + a timeline showing the sequence of events.