Air traffic

Air traffic controller fired for having sex on the job gets his license back

An air traffic controller who had sex on the job had his license revoked, but got it back.  (File photo)

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An air traffic controller who had sex on the job had his license revoked, but got it back. (File photo)

An air traffic controller who lost his job after an investigation found he was handcuffed to his chair and involved in sexual activity while giving instructions to pilots has got his license back.

The man has appealed the decision of the director of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to revoke his air traffic control licence.

Now a judge has ruled in his favour, saying that although the man had sex while on duty in the control tower, he was not handcuffed at the time and therefore was not physically restrained to do his job.

Heavy suppression orders apply to the matter. The man and other parties involved cannot be identified, nor the location of his workplace.

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The man began an extramarital affair in 2017 with a woman he met on a dating site. The woman lived in another part of the country and the couple met for sexual encounters in hotels and motels in different places.

The relationship ended after about five months and led to the woman contacting the man’s wife and informing her that the couple had sex in the control tower while the man was handcuffed to a chair .

The news reached the CAA and an investigation began.

The air traffic controller's behavior increased the risk of others operating in the aviation system, the judge said.  (File photo)

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The air traffic controller’s behavior increased the risk of others operating in the aviation system, the judge said. (File photo)

The woman told the investigator that the couple had sex in the control tower twice. On one occasion, he had been handcuffed to a chair and she had to press his handset so that he could communicate with a pilot.

The man said the sexual activity described by the woman happened, but in a hotel room, not in the control tower. He also said the woman told him to give her $50,000 or she would ruin his life.

The CAA Director concluded that “on a balance of probabilities” he was inclined to believe the woman. He said he planned to revoke the man’s license and invited him to make submissions before a final decision is made.

The manager expressed concern about the man’s propensity to engage in risky behavior, particularly having sex and allowing himself to be physically restrained while on duty while his attention to performing his duties air traffic control functions was vital.

The manager said the man’s behavior was “highly irresponsible, intolerable and exhibited extremely poor judgement”.

The air traffic controller engaged in sexual activity in the air traffic control tower.  (File photo)

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The air traffic controller engaged in sexual activity in the air traffic control tower. (File photo)

A final decision to revoke the man’s license was made in mid-2019 and he appealed.

The appeal was heard by Judge Chris Tuohy at Wellington District Court over three days in December last year.

The man denied the allegation of “sex in the tower” and argued that the woman lacked credibility because she was motivated by grudges and retaliation.

In his ruling, Judge Tuohy said the man’s testimony about dates and places was clear and consistent, while the woman’s had been “confusing and in some respects implausible or manifestly erroneous”.

Judge Chris Tuohy heard the man's appeal in Wellington District Court.  (File photo)

Dominion Post

Judge Chris Tuohy heard the man’s appeal in Wellington District Court. (File photo)

However, neither of them can be called honest and “the account of their affair shows that both are capable of sustained deception”.

The judge noted that the man had always denied any sexual activity in the tower, but he believed it was “intrinsically plausible” and was convinced that they had had sexual activity in the tower.

“I consider it much less plausible that [the man] allowed herself to be handcuffed to her chair in the control room during sexual activity, so she had to place the radio handset to her mouth and turn her transmission control on and off so he could talk to a pilot.

He agreed with the CAA director that by having sex in the tower, the man had been irresponsible and had “increased the risk of others operating in the aviation system through his behavior”.

But the man had not been physically prevented from carrying out his duties as he claimed, and that while the behavior was risky it was ‘not as risky as that which the manager relied on’ when he made the decision to revoke the license.

The judge considered the relatively short duration of the man’s behavior, the fact that he was unlikely to engage in such behavior in the future, his successful and uneventful career and the positive report of a psychologist.