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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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I am in trouble (again)

6 August 2020

Yes, it seems that I always end up kicking hornets' nests.

Some people have said that I am anti-authority. Not true.

The reality is that I'm opposed to organisations or people who misuse their power or who place policy ahead of pragmatism.

This perspective has seen me lock horns with a number of bureaucracies in the past because, let's be honest, the misuse of power and over-reliance on policy is most rampant within the halls of such bureaucracies.

And, for those who have been paying the least bit of attention it will come as no surprise that once again I'm trying to help CAA mend its ways.

Quick backstory (for those that missed it)... CAA have been investigating a number of the videos on my YouTube channel for alleged breaches of their regulations.

I have no problems with CAA investigating any complaints they receive about my or anyone's flying -- be it drone flying or the operation of a "real" aircraft. That's one of their jobs.

What I do take issue with is the way those investigations are performed and the experience that I (and many others) have had when being the subject of such investigations.

A CAA investigator contacted me way-back on the 26th of May to advise that the Authority had received complaints about three of my videos. That investigator followed up the phone call with an email on the 27th. A few days later I received a long list of questions (by email) and I responded to the salient points raised in those questions.

On June 4th I received another email from the investigator which included the statement that "I will endeavour to complete my investigation report within the next week and will advise you of the outcome".

Thus the expectation was set by CAA that it would take about a week for this investigation to be completed and for me to be advised of the outcome.

I waited TWO weeks and heard nothing so I emailed again, on the 19th of June, asking for an update.

The response was " I hope to have done by the end of next week".

More time passed so on the 30th of June (another TWO weeks) I requested yet another update.

"I have completed my report and is currently being reviewed for approval" was the response from the investigator.

It is now the 6th of August, more than 10 weeks since the investigation, that should have seen me advised of its outcome within a week, was begun. It seems that someone has had that report sitting on their desk for five weeks now -- and done nothing with it.

CAA has stopped responding to my requests for status updates, despite clearly stating in their Service Charter that they will "acknowledge all written inquiries within 10 working days".

Given that the investigation has taken an order of magnitude longer than the timeframes suggested by CAA it would appear that they're in violation of another of their charter statements: to "provide timely, accurate and useful responses to all inquiries"

I should point out that my dealings with the first investigator were very pleasant. He was polite, interested and helpful, albeit he was clearly constrained to following the policies under which he operated. I was rather disturbed to find that he knew less about the regulations I was supposed to have been in breach of than I did. You know something is wrong when you have to educate the investigator as to the rules.

Since then, a second investigation has been launched into another of my videos and my interaction with the investigator was not nearly so convivial.

This new investigator would accept no challenge to the applicability or merit of CAA's rules. His assertion was that "any act of non-compliance represents a threat to the safety of aviation". The video he was investigating appeared to show a small drone being flown under trees at a height of about 1-2m in the local park and well away from persons and property.

Sadly, this investigator refused to accept that this was no danger to aviation and thus it was clear that there was not going to be any commonsense applied by CAA in this process and that "compliance", not safety, was the sole objective of the Authority.

I'm sorry but I believe that safety should trump policy, compliance and all else. Rules, compliance and such are simply a strategy to create safety -- but they are not "safety" in and of themselves. As a "safety guy", I find it offensive that an investigator, a person who has the power to produce decisions that can initiate summary fines or prosecutions should be so closed-minded and unware of the ridiculous nature of their position on such things.

I also suggested to the investigator that they would be much better simply dismissing complaints where it was apparent right from the outset that there was no risk being presented to persons or property (as was the case in the video he was investigating). I was told in no uncertain terms that "all complaints would be investigated".

It appears that CAA does not even use a simple triage system to dismiss the meritless complaints and thus save their investigators a great deal of time and they refuse to acknowledge that this is even a good idea.

Now as one would expect, I have been documenting this entire sorry process by way of videos on my YouTube channel and to highlight the lunacy of CAA's position, I made this video:

It's also worth reading the comments on that video for a appreciate of the support my stand has received.

I also received support from an unexpected quarter -- the manned aviation community.

I've had pilots contact me to voice their support and thanks for highlighting the way the CAA investigation service operates and the attitudes of some investigators. It seems that a number the manned aviation community have been the "victim" of investigators who have this totally blinkered and non-pragmatic approach to their job. Businesses and clubs have been decimated by the CAA's actions in accordance with policies that would earn top marks from certain Eastern-bloc countries.

So sadly, CAA's blind adherence to "policies" appears to now be causing them more than a little pain. Since "every complaint" must be investigated, my call for people to complain about my "non-compliant flight (which, according to CAA must therefore constitute a danger to aviation) have boosted the workload significantly.

Is it just coincidence that these job opportunities have suddenly appeared?

Perhaps the only way to really deal with out-of-control bureaucracies is the old addage: "Let he who lives by the immutable policy, die by the immutable policy".

It's also worth noting that the culture of bullying that was recently exposed within CAA is still alive and well, as I reveal in this video:

As I said in that video... we SHOULD be working together, singing from the same hymn book but sadly, CAA seems too intent on being a slave to policy and compliance to realise the benefits that would flow from working with someone like me that has a huge reach into the very group that they seek to regulate.

This battle is far from over... stay tuned for updates.

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