QC investigates civil aviation leak

The country's airline regulator has appointed a leading Queen's Counsel to investigate a leak by its former deputy chairman of confidential information about a company's suspension.

In September, the Civil Aviation Authority's deputy chairman, Peter Griffiths, resigned after Newsroom inquiries into his actions over airline Sunair, a rival to Great Barrier Airlines, of which Griffiths is a shareholder. He had advised his own airline of Sunair's suspension over 'maintenance record issues' before Sunair was advised.

When Griffiths resigned, the board chair Nigel Gould, apologised over the "error of judgment" but told Sunair chief Dan Power there was"little benefit to be gained from any further scrutiny" of the incident.

Two months on, there is no public word on the fate of Sunair's suspension.

However Gould has written to Power saying: "An investigation into the events surrounding the actions of the former deputy chairman has been commissioned and you, along with others involved, can expect to be contacted by the independent investigator, Mary Scholtens QC.

"Mary has been appointed because of her expertise in public law and public sector governance, as well as her experience in public inquiries."

Gould tells Power in the letter, dated November 9: "While I continue to have the confidence expressed earlier to you as to motives and sequence of actions, I am very mindful that the Authority must not only do the right thing, but must be seen to be doing so as well.

"Retaining public confidence in the probity and integrity of the CAA and the independent role of the Director is essential".

Scholtens, a QC since 2002, has acted in high profile judicial review proceedings involving central and local government and regulators, and commissions of inquiry.

In September, Power told Newsroom the authority chair needed to "do some homework to ensure that there are no more conflicts and there are no undue influences being exerted. I personally at this point have no confidence in the organisation."

The former deputy chair, Griffiths, bought a 25 percent stake in Great Barrier Airlines in April. In the following five months three competing airlines including Sunair were subject to CAA action. Sunair was told on September 8, around 7 pm, that its Air Operator Certificate and Certificate of Airworthiness for its fleet were suspended over the maintenance record issues.

However earlier that day, a Sunair employee was told about the impending suspension at Kaitaia Airport by a Barrier Air employee.

Sunair and Great Barrier are direct competitors on several North Island routes and last year Sunair beat Great Barrier in a competitive tender for a profitable Whangarei to Kaitaia 'doctor run' providing charter services to the Northland District Health Board. That contract had previously been held by Barrier Air.

The CAA said an audit of Sunair's maintenance records highlighted anomalies and omissions that questioned the reliability of its maintenance and created reasonable doubt about the airworthiness of its aircraft.

It said Griffiths' shareholding in Great Barrier Airlines was recorded on its conflict of interest register and as a board member he was not involved in regulatory decision making. CAA claimed Griffiths' intention in telling Great Barrier Airlines of Sunair's suspension was to offer assistance and minimise disruption to Sunair customers.

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