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Balloon maintenance company singled out in New Zealand fatal crash probe

(Xinhua)

16:32, February 29, 2012

WELLINGTON, Feb. 29 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand aviation investigators Wednesday said a hot air balloon maintenance company had become a focus for further inquiries in their probe into the deaths of 11 people when a sightseeing balloon caught fire and crashed last month.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) director Steve Douglas said investigators had contacted all five active hot-air balloon maintainers to seek assurances that safety standards were being met.

In one case, however, Douglas determined that further investigation is warranted.

"Early indications are that in one case, not all maintenance practices have been followed according to the required standard," said Douglas in a statement that did not name the company.

"For example, tests of the strength and porosity of the balloon envelope have not been conducted using the equipment and techniques specified in the maintenance manual, and the engineer has relied upon individual experience and judgment instead.

"Accordingly, I have directed the CAA investigation to continue in more depth, and this will be the basis of any further safety action."

The 16 hot air balloons maintained by the company would be rechecked to remove any uncertainty regarding their airworthiness, Douglas said.

Concerns about balloon maintenance were raised during the Transport Accident Investigation Commission's (TAIC) examination of the accident near Carterton, at the bottom of the North Island.

It said a strength test on the balloon's envelope and a fuel system inspection were not done correctly, and documentation was incomplete.

"TAIC has not determined whether or not maintenance issues were a factor in the accident," said Douglas.

"However, the CAA must be assured that all participants carrying out activities in the civil aviation system do so safely and in accordance with prescribed safety requirements.

"The CAA will complete its investigations of balloon maintenance activity and take action as necessary to ensure the safety of the public."

The pilot and 10 passengers died in the Jan. 7 crash, when the balloon hit power lines and caught fire before plummeting to the ground.

The crash, which shocked the country, was New Zealand's worst aviation disaster since an Air New Zealand passenger jet crashed into Mount Erebus in the Antarctic with a loss of 257 lives in 1979.

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PD User at 2012-02-29116.202.211.*
High time to clean up the industry World wide?As New Zealand?Balloon Crash Takes Eleven LivesBy Pilot & Safety officer Nigel PogmoreEver since the news broke of? of this humongous tragedy, I have received a daily stream?of email. A few are from witnesses, others relatives or friends of those lost, many are desperately searching for answers as to how this could happen, others are asking me as to what was I going do about it, ah ah what can I do ? Due to the? volume of mail, it"s not been possible to respond? to all individually. As the weeks passed by, soul searching enquiries turned?into enquires of a different nature,?mainly along the lines of why had I not placed a comment on this site ? well having in the past said so much, silence can speak volumes.Let me explain.? Firstly I was on the move internationally just as the news came in,? once my international flight was over, it took me a few? more days simply get to what has been my home away from home. Ever since receiving threats on my life in April 2010, I have to remain in hiding, I live in a remote location that has unreliable power supply. On a good day I might have power most of the day, yet count myself lucky if the internet network also has power at the same time.??Pilots too afraid to speak out on safety issues for fear of reprisals:For those of you that have just joined me on the web, lets? just say that in some parts of the world, if a pilot has concerns about passenger? safety? in the balloon rides business, he had better? be able to look out for himself. I hear you enquiring as to what support I receive from those in this multi million dollar industry, the answer very little, many should hang their heads in shame. Other than a few, Pilots that I have known and worked along side with over the last twenty years or so, they simply ran for cover, scared off, fearful of losing their livelihood they keep their heads down & keep their job.? So what does this unscrupulous behaviour do for passenger safety ?? Well?I"ll? shall not be giving away any prizes if you have guessed ?correctly, It erodes? whatever safety procedures were in place in the first place, leaving the un-suspecting passenger in far more danger than they could ever imagine. With strings being pulled , pilots become nothing more than helpless puppets, accident happen, invariably passenger lives are lost.For far too long we have?allowed? a system to exist? where the CAA either appears unable to sufficiently monitor this industry at the appropriate levels, often they lack the necessary understanding of elements pertaining exclusively to hot air ballooning.?The unsuspecting public might be excused for thinking that, that"s as bad as it gets, how wrong could they be.?I dare say that the public would be horrified? to learn that in less developed parts of the World, that payoffs to CAA officials are not unheard of. A classic example of this scandalous activity, is my recent experience in Tanzania, where UK owners of Serengeti Balloon Safaris admitted to me that they were able to pay bribes? to such officials. Obviously with such operators able to corrupt the CAA has the affect of rendering a ones? authority and expertise as pilot and safety officer to be nothing more than dust, to be pushed to one side, allowing a none pilot to assert his grossly misplaced power. Subsequently with fatal consequences, dictate how commercial flight operation are to be conducted. On 29th September 2010, the same owners suffered their third fatal accident, bringing their death toll to five. Unlike New Zealand, to date these same so called authorities have blatantly hidden the facts of the accident from the public.Public should stay on the ground? for the time? being.NZ safety chief John Marshall has been reported saying that, in view of apparent serious safety breaches, he would refuse a balloon ride at this time. At the same time the NZ CAA are now setting about inspecting all 73 balloons.?Based on compelling evidential material that has reached my office. Along with Mr .Marshall, I am?also horrified at what I have seen to date. Obviously, I have no alternative but support behind such a stand. Whilst I remain highly sensitive to the repercussion?that this shall have on the balloon rides industry, particularly to those that are in full compliance, as a interim precautionary measure, I would strongly? recommend that balloons are grounded with immediate effect and remain so until a full safety inspection are completed. That said, experience tells me that? it takes a very brave? CAA official to follow through with such broad sweepings? action. For this reason, I can only advise the public to stay on the ground for the time being.??Balloon Passenger safety left up in the air says Canadian Transport Safety Board? (TSB)By now you shall no doubt understand that there are so many aspects that need to be investigated. What concerns to mind is that during any investigation/inspections, the industry is not that forthcoming. It would not be the first time that diligent investigators have been hoodwinked by some members of this industry. Interestingly the Canadian Transport Safety Board, when making reference to this industry, states that the balloon passenger safety is left up in the air. At the time the author of the report (Wendy Taros) was looking into the accident that took place in British Columbia. This accident injured many, a mother and daughter were killed. The same report sights overloading of up-to a staggering 1000kgs. It just gets worse, illegal repairs/modification and more. Regrettably this spells disaster for the adventurous public & not forgetting the disproportionate professional operators that are grossly outnumbered by the rogue operators found in the balloon rides industry.Balloon operators treated as client by the CAAOther reports go on to claim that balloon operators are treated as if they were clients of the local CAA (Transport Canada) rather than operators that so urgently need policing. So now we have a situation where the tail is wagging the dog, all very worrying, however the truth is that passenger are blissfully unaware of the serious deficiencies that are rampant throughout the balloon rides industry. More often than not, profit along with self protectionism towers far above any concerns for passenger safety.I note that Melbourne based operator, in his quest to distance themselves from the New Zealand accident did not waste any time to tell the world that this accident happen outside Australia, yet forgot to mention a resent incident involving an Australian balloon that had also crashed into power-lines. Thankfully on that occasion no one was hurt, the only casualty been a local power blackout. Tragic though it is, I believe that?the New Zealand Balloon rides operators along with the licencing authorities? have? not by choice, have to bear the burden ? of the immense task? to ?rid this industry of activities often associated with the many cowboys within the rides industry. Now is the time for? the nation to demonstrate that it has not only the?courage to address the many distasteful issues that lie ahead, yet to? showcase what this nation certainly has, that vital ingredient of ? unparalleled levels of professionalism.? In these troubled times, New Zealanders should allow themselves to take some comfort in knowing that the many shortcomings often? found within this industry, are not restricted to their shores yet epidemic world wide. It is only when we address our industry safety levels globally, that we stand any chance of restoring public confidence, should we not do so, a year or so from now, we shall be right back were we are to day. In the next few days in order to explore the possibility of sharing information, I hope to establish direct contact with both the NZ CAA & TAIC commissioner John Marshall?.??In due course, I shall be putting forward additional proposals before the balloon rides industry that if adopted may enable HABSC to highlight ballooning far more positively than of late.For the benefit of the many newcomers to this site, the following page may help to give you a better understanding of what can happen to balloon pilots that voices concerns relating to passenger safety. Masked men come calling on balloon safety office Serengeti Balloon company involved in fatal accident, demands $500,000 compensation from the pilot that had previously warned of such an accident
  

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