Flying into Taupo looks dodgy – but shouldn’t GPS be brought into the safety calculations?

And the odds of flying into the mountain are...what exactly?

We are given good statistical reasons today for avoiding air travel to get to Taupo.

The odds of flying into danger are set out in an NZ Herald report –

Every second plane flying into Taupo is pulled off course and on a collision course with Mt Tauhara, a coroner’s inquest into a plane crash that killed three people has been told.

This is a scary number.

If you had to fly to Taupo for whatever reason, you would be smart to inquire if the previous flight was one of the two that is pulled off course and headed for Mt Tauhara.

Comforted by the knowledge this indeed was the case, you could be more confident about taking the trip.

But if the previous flight had been one of the two that is not pulled off course, you should skip the one you were about to get into and wait for the next.

Whether things are as bad as they seem from a 50:50 prospect of being pulled off course is arguable.

A whole lot of technical stuff comes into considerations.

The most important of these is mentioned a bit further down in the NZ Herald report.

It’s that one in two planes heading into Taupo using an Aircraft Direction Finder (ADF) runs into trouble.

This implies that your chances of being pulled off course are considerably improved if you fly on a plane that does not use an ADF.

How many of these fly into Taupo?

Good question.

The inquest, by the way, was into the deaths of pilot Steve Brown, from Christian Aviation, and an Australian couple, Christine and Bernie Lewis.

They died when a Piper Seneca light plane crashed into the mountain in the central North Island about 11.30am on February 2, 2005.

Coroner Wallace Bain adjourned the inquest to get more information about Brown’s medical condition.

Lawyer Philip Grace, acting for the Brown family, brought the scary statistics into the story.

He told the inquest the accident could have been avoided had the Civil Aviation Authority been told of two incidents in October 2001 when two Air New Zealand planes were pulled off course into the path of the mountain.

He said a report on the incident by Airways, New Zealand’s air navigation service, said one of the planes carrying 17 people avoided crashing only because cloud lifted, giving pilots a view of the mountain.

Dunno how the other plane avoided crashing, but presumably it did.

The lawyer’s point is that other pilots were not warned of the problem.

It would happen again unless pilots were warned, as the Airways report indicated, that this was happening to half of all planes heading into Taupo using an Aircraft Direction Finder (ADF).

ADF is used by pilots because there are no air traffic controllers at Taupo Airport to direct them.

The equipment could give false readings depending on the weather at the time, the inquest was told.

Mr Grace said it was “extraordinary” no one had passed on information to the CAA to warn other pilots of the problem.

The issue had been filed away once it was realised the problem could be resolved once GPS was introduced for flying into Taupo, he said.

GPS is shorthand for Global Positioning System.

Aviators throughout the world use this system to increase the safety and efficiency of flight.

With its accurate, continuous, and global capabilities, GPS offers seamless satellite navigation services that satisfy many of the requirements for aviation users.

But Alf has digressed.

Let’s get back to the report on the inquest.

We learn that Brown’s plane had GPS fitted but he wasn’t certified to use it.

Then comes the remark on which the NZ Herald presumably based its intro.

It came from that Grace feller, while he was registering his astonishment about the safety information being filed in the too-hard basket …

“They decided to do nothing about it,” he said. “It just beggars belief this has happened … Every second plane flying into Taupo could crash into Mt Tauhara.”

Grace went on to say that within a month of the deaths, Air New Zealand stopped flying into Taupo.

“The general public were told nothing,” he said. “[Air New Zealand] kept it to themselves … Airways has known this has been an ongoing problem for about 10 years.”

This gives the impression the airline no longer flies into Taupo.

It does fly there , of course.

The Great Lake Taupo website says Air New Zealand operates daily flights to and from Taupo Airport, and that Auckland and Wellington are the main gateways for both domestic and international travel.

More information about scheduled flights can be found here.

Oh, and then the Great Lake Taupo website says –

On average, Taupo airport has approximately 35,000 aircraft movements per year, adding to the ‘buzzing’ vibe of Taupo.

Should we really believe that half that number is being pulled off course and directed towards Mt Tauhara?

Not – we may reasonably assume – if we bring GPS into calculations.

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One Response to Flying into Taupo looks dodgy – but shouldn’t GPS be brought into the safety calculations?

  1. Just read your blog on the Taupo 2/05 air crash.
    A balanced and reasonable assesment of the the media reports. It is easy to understand why you have your own web site, in order to ensure you get your own story out.
    Yes the problem had been around a long time it appears, but it was not promulgated by the people who should have.
    ADF is a navigation aid that has been around for a long time and been used succesfully for decades, but as with other NAV Aids it needs monitoring for the accuracy of the components.
    Yes Air NZ still fly there, but they stopped using that particular approach.
    The incorrectly quoted statement is ” that the NDB has a random problem that occurs 50% of the time.” This is in an official document. Not every second aeroplane will have a problem..
    GPS is great but not infallible either and needs to be checked regularly.
    Hope this helps. I did seven years of research into the cause of this accident.
    Steve’s Dad.

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