Ques­tions over in­spec­tor’s work

The Southland Times - - NEWS - JU­LIAN LEE

A Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity in­spec­tor who over­stated his CV had his per­for­mance in in­ves­ti­gat­ing one of the coun­try’s worst fa­tal he­li­copter crashes red-flagged in in­ter­nal emails.

As a CAA flight op­er­a­tions in­spec­tor Paul Mitchell Jones con­ducted safety checks and in­quiries all over the coun­try, in­clud­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2015 Fox Glacier crash that killed seven peo­ple.

A Stuff in­quiry has found Jones was a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure within the avi­a­tion in­dus­try and at­tracted se­ri­ous con­cerns about his work from su­pe­ri­ors.

Stuff re­cently re­ported that Jones had claimed on his CV that he had two ad­vanced fixed-wing and he­li­copter air­craft qual­i­fi­ca­tions, Air­line Trans­port Pi­lot Li­cences (ATPLs), when he had nei­ther.

The CAA has re­fused to or­der an in­quiry into his work and has said it was happy with his per­for­mance de­spite con­cern ex­pressed in its own emails ob­tained by Stuff.

One of Jones’ big­gest jobs was to in­ves­ti­gate the glacier crash, on which he and oth­ers came up with six find­ings.

The Euro­copter AS350 Ecureuil, known as the Squir­rel, be­longed to Alpine Ad­ven­tures, which now says some of Jones’ find­ings were ‘‘com­pletely wrong’’.

The Novem­ber 2015 crash killed lo­cal 28-year-old pi­lot Mitch Gameren and four Bri­tish and two Aus­tralian tourists.

Seven months af­ter the crash the CAA sus­pended the Air Oper­at­ing Cer­tifi­cate of Alpine Ad­ven­tures’ owner, James Scott, forc­ing him to ground his fleet of 15 he­li­copters.

Ques­tions were now be­ing raised about Jones’ com­pe­tence to per­form his du­ties while he was at the CAA.

A CAA email ob­tained by Stuff showed Jones’ boss, Steve Kern, was con­cerned over ma­jor breaches of CAA record-keep­ing pro­to­cols by Jones and oth­ers in re­gard to the glacier crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The email showed that when Kern went into the CAA com­puter sys­tem in May 2016, much of the ma­te­rial he ex­pected to find sup­port­ing the crash find­ings was miss­ing or in the wrong place.

‘‘For vis­its of this im­por­tance I was ex­pect­ing to see some rea­son­able notes and ev­i­dence of what you did, who you talked to, what you found, any ac­tions agreed etc.’’

The CAA has said man­age­ment rou­tinely checked up on in­for­ma­tion gath­ered from au­dit­ing and sur­veil­lance ac­tiv­i­ties.

‘‘Staff are ex­pected to en­ter sur­veil­lance in­for­ma­tion into our data­base. Man­agers mon­i­tor this and fol­low up with staff or teams should in­for­ma­tion be in­com­plete or lack­ing.’’

The CAA would not com­ment specif­i­cally on Kern’s email.

The Gen­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­vo­cacy Group of New Zealand (GAA), which rep­re­sents 2000 avi­a­tion staff, slammed the CAA’s han­dling of the Jones af­fair.

The GAA has writ­ten to the CAA de­mand­ing an­swers to a se­ries of ques­tions aris­ing from Jones’ em­ploy­ment from 2014 to early this year.

Ac­cord­ing to a flight op­er­a­tions in­spec­tor job de­scrip­tion dated Jan­uary 2017, the ATPL or equiv­a­lent is an es­sen­tial pre­req­ui­site. But CAA spokesman Mike Richards said the job de­scrip­tion was a mis­take and flight in­spec­tors did not need the qual­i­fi­ca­tions, which were the high­est li­cences pi­lots could earn in New Zealand.

Scott said he was not sur­prised when he found out Jones was not qual­i­fied for the po­si­tion, de­scrib­ing his be­hav­iour dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as ‘‘un­usual’’.

‘‘Now it makes sense. When I dis­puted the things he was try­ing to tell me, he com­pletely dis­missed them. They should never have em­ployed him in the first place.’’

Stuff has spo­ken to half a dozen pi­lots who found Jones’ safety au­dits un­usual.

Owen Jones, un­re­lated to Paul Jones, was the qual­ity as­sur­ance man­ager for Heli­worx Waikato in 2015 when the in­spec­tor car­ried out an au­dit.

Owen Jones de­scribed Paul Jones’ be­hav­iour as ag­gres­sive and ac­cusatory and com­plained to the CAA. An­other au­dit was car­ried out by a dif­fer­ent in­spec­tor.

CAA’s Richards said Jones’ be­hav­iour could be ex­plained and the CAA was aware of only a small num­ber of com­plaints.

Jones had a dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with a small num­ber of op­er­a­tors, but an ef­fec­tive reg­u­la­tor could spark ten­sions, Richards said.

In a state­ment, Richards men­tioned Jones did not claim to have the ATPL qual­i­fi­ca­tions when he started work­ing for the CAA in 2014 and added the li­cences when ap­ply­ing for an­other CAA po­si­tion in 2016.

That con­tra­dicts a copy of Jones’ CV cited be­fore a court, dated 2014, which shows the claimed ATPL qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Richards said the CAA would not be chang­ing any of the de­ci­sions it had made with Alpine Ad­ven­tures since Jones’ glacier crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Jones would not com­ment.

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