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Chief Commissioner's Overview

In this eighteenth Annual Report to Parliament for the period 1 July, 2008 to 30 June, 2009 the Commission recognises the general global reduction in economic activity and the challenge that this new economic environment creates for the Commission’s stewardship of the $3,938,000 of public funds provided by Parliament to the Commission to enable it to perform its statutory functions.

In December 2008 the newly elected government required all those responsible for the expenditure of public funds in New Zealand to think and act creatively in order to achieve maximum value for each dollar spent. The challenge for the Commission is to meet this objective of improved productivity while maintaining scrupulous performance of its statutory functions.

The Commission reports to Parliament its progress in meeting this challenge.

In accordance with the Business Sustainability and Effectiveness Initiative, commenced in the 2008/09 financial year, the Commission is adopting a new information technology programme equipping each investigator in the field backed by a common information platform specifically designed for the task of accident inquiry. The Commission’s executive team is ensuring that the New Zealand information system in development will complement similar information systems used by our counterparts in Australia, Canada and the United States.

In June 2009, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau conducted a seminar for investigators in best international practice of transport investigation factual analysis. The Commission is grateful to our Australian counterparts for sharing some of the results of their A$5 million project designed to improve the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s investigative capability.

Professional competency directly contributes to productivity because avoidable elementary costly mistakes are not made. Accordingly, the Commission pays considerable attention to investing in its principal human assets, the professional investigators, and the Commission provides a programme of continual professional development for them.

Each of the Commission’s investigators is sent to Cranfield University in the United Kingdom for initial and advanced level accredited investigation training. As the Commission engages in multi-modal investigation, it is essential for each investigator to receive this internationally regarded training.

The Commission will shortly publish its first short- form report. Some accidents and incidents are suitable for a speedy examination and publication of findings and recommendations. The Commission will be astute to ensure that such accidents and incidents are without complexity and therefore suitable for such short-form reporting where discussion of factual matters not relevant to the analysis and findings will be brief. Short-form reporting is another example of the Commission meeting the objective of improved productivity in these more straitened times.

Realistically, the general reduction in economic activity represents a potential hazard to the profitability of transport operators. Adequate levels of maintenance and safe operations for aeroplanes, ships and trains in New Zealand ought not to be compromised by ill-advised “cost savings.” The Commission is aware that some thirty-five million travellers each year in New Zealand rely upon the Commission to contribute to transport safety through rigorous investigation into incidents which may be precursors of possible serious fatal accidents.

Looking at transport statistics, for rail, some 20 million paying passengers use trains each year, principally in the greater Wellington region and in metropolitan Auckland with two new major upgrading projects in both these cities over the next three years involving a new generation of trains and state of the art electrical equipment.

For air, some 10 million paying passengers use scheduled air services within the country each year. Another half million people are involved in general aviation, agriculture and tourism flights. An economic downturn inevitably affects each air line operator, from the largest airline fleet to the one plane tourism operator.

For ferry services, more than 5 million paying passengers travel on our waters each year. Perhaps ten thousand people are employed in ocean fishing and tourism.

The Commission’s developing application of the “lead-indicator” approach, which is the doctrine that most accidents have identifiable precursors which serve as an early warning of possible transport disasters, will provide the Commission with valuable evidence, particularly in relation to investigation into notified incidents.

The Commission is alert to the possibility that in more difficult trading conditions there may be a tendency to dilute safety standards. As a guardian of transport safety for the New Zealand public, the Commission will fearlessly expose such dilutions, if evidentially established in the course of an investigation.

Looking beyond New Zealand, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission Act 1990 empowers the Commission to co-operate in appropriate overseas investigations. The Commission has Accredited Representative status in the French inquiry into the Air New Zealand owned and XL Airways operated Airbus A320 accident off Perpignan, southern France on 27th November 2008 and is grateful for the support of its counterparts in the United Kingdom’s Air Accident Investigation Branch in this work. The French BEA Interim Report released on 24 February 2009 referred to non-revenue aviation operations and the attendant special risks associated with such endeavours. The final report into this accident is likely to be of great importance to the international aviation community.

The Commission has accepted invitations from the governments of Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tonga to provide technical expertise in investigations involving the accident of a Britton Norman Islander airplane and the sinking of two ferries. The safety of passenger ferries in the Pacific represents a challenge to the region’s Governments and maritime operators.

On 30 July 2008 the British registered cruise ship Pacific Sun encountered heavy seas 200 nautical miles north east of New Zealand. The Commission, on request, provided technical assistance to the United Kingdom’s Maritime Accident Investigation Branch into the incident which left 77 passengers and crew injured.

Looking to the future, on 1 January 2010 the International Maritime Organisation’s Casualty Investigation Code becomes mandatory requiring sea accidents and incidents to be investigated using the principles applying under Annex 13 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation to which the New Zealand Government became a signatory on 7 December 1944

Further, the new International Civil Aviation Organisation’s State Safety programme requires the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority to adopt its own investigation of risks within the national aviation system. All approved aviation operators will soon be obliged to formulate their own Safety Management System with 15 specified components covering safety, data collection, analysis and identification of risks, with each chief executive being made ultimately accountable for the safety of the aviation operator.

These technical developments will serve the thirty-five million travellers in New Zealand each year who trust those who hold statutory operator licenses issued by the New Zealand state to safely transport them to their destinations. The Commission plays a central role in that comprehensive transport safety system.

The annual budget of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission is almost $4 million which equates to about a dollar each year from each New Zealander. The twin goals of the Commission are to prudently expend the tax-payer resources and to contribute to a competently operating New Zealand transport system. It is difficult to assess the economic value of the domestic and export goods carried each year; obviously, great economic interests of the nation depend upon a safely functioning transport system. The Commission, by facilitating New Zealand’s transport system, contributes to the economic well-being of our country.

Next year there will be changes in the composition of the present Commission, as I have come to the end of my time of service to the Commission. My Commission colleagues over the past five years, Pauline Winter and Bryan Wyness each contribute substantially to the work of the Commission. For me, it has been an honour to serve with them, and also with the Chief Executive, Lois Hutchinson, Chief Investigator, Tim Burfoot, and the investigators and staff - all working together to make the New Zealand transport system safe and efficient.

Hon Bill Jeffries
Chief Commissioner