Safety Decision Made on Cockpit Voice Recorders

  • Maurice Williamson

A major decision on the use of information gained from aviation accident investigations was announced today by Minister of Transport Hon Maurice Williamson.

This has been a long running consultation between pilots and other industry interests, the police and the public. It requires action and decisions by the Parliament and as a result of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) investigation which strongly recommended to the Minister of Transport that a remedy to this issue was found urgently.

A discussion document has preceded this decision. Government has listened to all concerned and settled on this position. The parliament and select committee process will allow a further airing of views on whether the Government has got the balance of interests right.

"The proposal favours accident prevention, not prosecution. However it does leave the door open for possible access to information in the event of a serious criminal offence having been committed by a pilot or another responsible person," the Minister said.

"Legislation will ensure safety devices, such as cockpit voice recorders (CVR), are used for the purpose for which the information is collected - that is, safety. This information, including data collected as a result of an accident can be used to train others so that risks can be averted in the future.

"It will also protect other information collected during a safety investigation, such as witness statements made to a safety investigator and other safety related information gathered post-accident.

"We have reached this decision after a long process of consultation.

"We have weighed the Police's need for free access to all safety information for prosecution against the view that if information - often voluntarily given - is not protected it may not be so readily disclosed. We have favoured the side of accident prevention more than prosecution," the Minister said.

The main points of the policy are:

  • Absolute protection is provided for witness statements, submissions and information generated post-accident in the course of a safety investigation from disclosure or admissibility in court proceedings.
  • A High Court may order disclosure of other 'specified records' in the case of certain serious criminal charges and civil proceedings where certain criteria are met otherwise 'specified records' may only be disclosed for safety investigation purposes.
  • "Specified records" include air traffic control tapes, the CVR, cockpit video recorder, and personal information gathered in the course of a safety investigation.
  • When disclosure is ordered by the High Court the record is not to be broadcast or published in the media.
  • The safety investigation report itself is not to be admissible in court proceedings, except for coroners' inquests.
  • TAIC investigators will not be compelled to give opinion evidence in court.

A Bill amending the Transport Accident Investigation Commission Act 1990 is expected to be introduced into Parliament later this year, for consideration by Select Committee.

"I look forward to working with the interested parties, and the MPs to advance this measure through the Parliament," the Minister said.

This legislation will align New Zealand domestic legislation with the International Convention on Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention), and will satisfy the recommendation to Government by TAIC in 1997 that it move forthwith to clarify the law.

"We have made a balanced and sound decision. It will give us a strong framework in which to work to make New Zealand skies safe for all travellers," Mr Williamson said.