Government to review Airways NZ after proposed cuts slammed by pilots as 'devastating for aviation safety'

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association (NZALPA) is applauding the Government's decision to conduct a review of the country's air navigation services. 

The review comes after Aotearoa's national air navigation service provider, Airways NZ, announced plans to cut air traffic control services for over half of the country's airports, blaming COVID-19 - but documents reveal plans had been discussed at least a year before the pandemic.

"As New Zealand's largest pilot union, NZALPA also represents every air traffic controller in the country and flight service personnel," said NZALPA President Andrew Ridling.

"In our view, this was an egregious decision and looked to also take advantage of a crisis." 

Controllers are a part of every moment of every flight.
Controllers are a part of every moment of every flight. Photo credit: Airways New Zealand

In April 2020 - during the peak of New Zealand's COVID-19 crisis - Airways NZ announced a review into its services around the country, saying it was "simply not viable to continue the same level of service at locations where there are no passenger flights".

However, in Ministry of Transport briefing papers released under Official Information Act and seen by Newshub, concerns were raised about Airways NZ's performance and proposed cuts to regional airports in 2019.

The discussion document goes on to say Airways NZ is focused on new technologies "with concerns being raised about delivery of its core role", including pulling out of key services at regional airports. 

Remote air traffic control simulator at Airways NZ.
Remote air traffic control simulator at Airways NZ. Photo credit: Dan Lake/Newshub

It has been investing in digital towers and remote access, allowing for airspace to be monitored from one central location, regardless of where the airport is located.

Airlines have also raised concerns after air traffic control towers had to be closed due to staff shortages on numerous occasions, resulting in commercial flights being diverted or cancelled.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has also received reports of traffic controllers suffering fatigue, with some incidents currently under review by the authority. 

Flights have been forced to take longer routes due to closed airspace.
Flights have been forced to take longer routes due to closed airspace. Photo credit:

Airways NZ, while Government owned, is a state-owned enterprise so is expected to make a profit compatible with what it would make if it were in the private sector.

And, despite being at the centre of aviation safety in Aotearoa, Airways NZ is not monitored by the Ministry of Transport, but rather the Ministry of Finance which focuses on its financial performance and revenue. 

"Despite 'consultation' with industry held on its terms, as a state-owned enterprise Airways has literally been operating 'under the radar' of public scrutiny and requires a good hard look under the bonnet," Ridling said.

"We've met with the Minister of Transport and officials and give the Government our full support on the review, including offering our expertise and services."

Airways NZ referred Newshub to the government for comment.