Going public with concerns rare in aviation industry - expert

Problems within the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) must be very bad to prompt an employee to go public with their concerns, an industry expert says.

The whistleblower told Newshub the authority has a "toxic work environment" that is putting the public at risk.

"This is a safety regulator. The CAA's job is to protect the travelling public of New Zealand," he told Newshub.

"How can you assure safety in an organisation that has this level of distrust and dysfunction?"

Aviation commentator Irene King told The AM Show on Monday it's "very unusual that an employee... felt forced to go into the public domain" in order to be heard.

"In our aviation safety culture, people are encouraged to speak out and to speak up. But on the other hand, they also expect to be listened to. I think what seems to be being described here is a culture that's stopped listening."

In just over three years, 20 formal complaints have been made by staff at CAA about bullying, sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour.

King says there have been "consistent reports" of the aviation safety system being "fractured", but this might be the final straw that prompts a full inquiry.

"If this was an airline, the CAA would come in and investigate and shut them down. We can't shut the regulator down - what we have to do is... have an independent inquiry into what the problems are."

She said there were complaints about hot air balloon pilot Lance Hopping's use of cannabis and alcohol, before he was involved in a crash that killed 11 people in 2012; and there serious problems reported by auditors on the West Coast were ignored before the Fox Glacier helicopter crash, which left seven dead.

Aviation NZ chief executive John Nicholson says the CAA and the aviation industry collectively are the system, and the system has to work.

"That can only work if there is trust and respect on the part of both parties. We can't simply function efficiently if there is considerable distrust about CAA."

He wants the allegations to be investigated "thoroughly and very quickly".

"We can't have them hanging around and people wondering what is going on."

King said in the meantime, Kiwis should have confidence they can fly safely.

"I'm not saying that today, tomorrow, the next day we're going to have an accident - that's just hysteria."

Transport Minister Phil Twyford has invited the whistleblower to talk, guaranteeing anonymity.