Exclusive: Team leaders at Aviation Security Services accused of allowing people to board flights with illegal items

Newshub can reveal that the Civil Aviation Authority boss has ordered a QC to investigate serious allegations of bullying, harassment and ineffective leadership at the Aviation Security Service.

Graeme Harris, the CAA's chief executive, has been approached by "multiple staff" who have made specific allegations against people, "predominantly in leadership roles". 

Most allegations relate to Aviation Security's Wellington operation and the Explosive Detector Dog Unit.

Significantly, Harris says other allegations suggest "systemic and broad-ranging issues" including "a culture of fear" where people are scared "they will be targeted" if they speak up. 

In an email to staff obtained by Newshub, Harris says he's appointed QC David Laurenson to investigate the "serious" allegations. 

They include:

  • Bullying and inappropriate behaviour mainly by people who hold top positions
  • Alleged ineffective leadership 
  • Bias in appointment processes
  • Unethical procurement practices

If you have more information, email Michael Morrah confidentially at michaelmorrah@mediaworks.co.nz

"We have been made aware by members that there are issues with bullying and other inappropriate behaviour within Avsec," says Glenn Barclay, Public Service Association general secretary. 

The majority of specific allegations against leaders relate to the Detector Dog Unit, and Wellington's Aviation Security operation. 

A former worker from the Wellington team, who made multiple complaints of bullying and harassment, says it has been ignored for years. 

"It is absolutely being spearheaded by team leaders - they will pick on individuals that raise concerns because they're pegged as problem children," says the former Acsec officer.

Harris' email states that other allegations suggest "systemic" problems, including a "culture of fear of coming forward".

The investigation will look at the working environment at airports across the country.

"The only thing that happens when you speak up is you start to get targeted," the former worker says.

"I've witnessed bullying, I've witnessed inappropriate touching, I've seen people not following procedure."

When it comes to not following procedures, the allegations are serious - like allowing passengers to carry illegal items like knives with a blade longer than 6cm on to flights, just so team leaders can avoid doing paperwork.

"I've witnessed team leaders allowing longer knives through the checkpoints, injurious substances, allowing dangerous goods that should not be going on planes," the former worker says.

The allegations of bullying, harassment and poor management mirror concerns raised by CAA whistleblowers as part of an earlier Newshub investigation

They spoke of serious complaints being ignored, calling it "a culture of secrecy and cover-up".

The two Government agencies in charge of keeping kiwis safe in the skies are facing turbulence and serious scrutiny. 

The Transport Minister has already ordered an independent investigation into the culture at the CAA. 

Who exactly will be involved in the review of culture at CAA will be announced shortly, but the Minister has told Newshub today it will include a barrister and a consulting firm. 

The new investigation into the Aviation headed by QC David Laurenson is separate, and Laurenson will report directly to Graeme Harris. 

Asked about claims of dangerous goods being allowed on planes, the CAA would not comment except to say "any allegations involving breaches of security standards would certainly be within the scope of the investigation".

AVSEC general Manager, Mark Wheeler, told Newshub he's "committed to providing a positive work environment... where people can raise concerns in a safe and supported manner".