The Ministry of Transport is leading a review of the Civil Aviation Act, which governs the civil aviation system in New Zealand. While the Act is fundamentally sound, the Act is over 20 years old and during this period there have been a number of changes in the aviation industry.

The Ministry wants to make sure the Act promotes a responsive regulatory system to support a dynamic aviation sector.

The review will reconsider the relationship between the Act and the Airport Authorities Act 1966. The Airport Authorities Act confers powers on a range of local authorities and persons, with respect to airports. It may be able to be simplified and included in the Civil Aviation Act.

Read Minister Brownlee's media statement(external link).

Find out more about the Civil Aviation Act review by reading the questions and answers below.

What is the Civil Aviation Act and what does it cover?

The Civil Aviation Act 1990 covers a wide range of activities within the civil aviation system.


The Act sets out a safety and security framework for the civil aviation system and establishes the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Aviation Security Service (Avsec). It specifies the functions performed by CAA and Avsec and gives them the powers necessary to carry them out.

It sets out the requirements and responsibilities for operating and participating within the civil aviation system. In this system, every participant shares a responsibility for safety and security. Aviation organisations, pilots, engineers, air traffic controllers and aircraft owners are each responsible for meeting the relevant statutory safety and security standards.

The Act empowers the Minister of Transport to make civil aviation rules that participants in the civil aviation system are required to follow to keep aviation safe and secure. It empowers the Director of Civil Aviation to check compliance with these rules and enables the Director to take action, if they are not being complied with.

Economic regulation

The Act sets out the framework for economic regulation of foreign and New Zealand international airlines in the areas of licensing, non-scheduled services and international air services competition. It includes the corresponding duties and powers of the Minister of Transport and Secretary for Transport.


The Act empowers the Minister of Transport to establish, maintain and operate aerodromes. The Act sets out the high level arrangements for Crown and joint venture airports – that is, airports jointly owned by the Crown and local authorities.

An objective of the Act is to ensure New Zealand meets its obligations under international aviation agreements. The Act makes the Minister of Transport responsible for administering New Zealand’s participation in the Convention on International Civil Aviation. The Act also provides for the Civil Aviation Authority to enter into agreements including technical cooperation arrangements with the civil aviation authorities of other countries.

The Act prescribes airline liability and consumer protection for loss and delay.  Delay, in the domestic context, includes being "bumped" on overbooked flights, and also covers flights that have have been delayed or cancelled because of airline issues, such as rostering.  Under the Act, airlines are liable to pay compensation to passengers - up to 10 times the price of their ticket, or the actual cost of the passenger's delay, whichever is the lesser.

Why does it need to be reviewed?

The Act is fundamentally sound, however, it has been amended a number of times and is now over 20 years old.  The review provides an opportunity to refresh and improve the Act’s usability, and ensure that its provisions are current and effective.

The Act introduced the concept of shared accountability for safety, between participants in the civil aviation system and the Civil Aviation Authority. The government’s approach for regulatory reform necessitates a fresh look at the Act to ensure it is achieving this purpose.

In addition, over the past 20 years, significant change has occurred within government and throughout the international aviation industry.  Some of the changes are:

  • the flourishing of New Zealand’s aviation business. About $9.7 billion of revenue is now earned by the aviation industry each year – almost as much as the $10.4 billion earned from the country’s dairy industry . The government expects the industry to continue to be a major contributor to economic growth. The review provides an opportunity to ensure that the Act is not unnecessarily constraining aviation business in New Zealand and across the globe
  • the government’s ‘Better Regulation, Less Regulation’(external link) initiative. The review is a response to finding new ways of tackling transport regulation to ensure it is of high quality and implemented in a cost-effective manner
  • the Civil Aviation Authority has moved to a more proactive, risk-based approach to aviation regulation. It is implementing a change programme to improve regulatory quality, service delivery, and efficiency and effectiveness. The review provides an opportunity to ensure the Act can support the Civil Aviation Authority to achieve its change programme
  • the international aviation industry is changing rapidly due to increased demand for services, improved technology, the increasing cost of jet fuel and environmental concerns. The review provides an opportunity to ensure that the regulatory framework supports the needs of a dynamic sector

What is the timetable for the review?

Policy review work began in May 2013 and will run to the end of August 2013. This includes engagement with key stakeholders.

Recommendations will be completed by November 2013, when a Cabinet paper will be prepared. A formal consultation process with stakeholders will be undertaken in late January-end February 2014. Cabinet decisions are expected to be made by mid-2014.

A Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament to effect changes sometime in 2014.

What does the review involve?

The review will not alter the fundamental principles of the Act: to establish a regulatory framework to promote civil aviation safety and security, and implement New Zealand’s international obligations. The transport agencies themselves will not be reviewed, and Civil Aviation Rules will be retained. Airways New Zealand’s will continue as the sole air traffic service provider of area control services, approach control services, and flight information services. The Civil Aviation Authority will retain its statutory responsibility for the Aviation Security Service.

What will be reconsidered include the following:

  • a general review of the Act’s provisions to ensure they provide for effective and efficient decision-making - clarifying intent and removing any ambiguity
  • whether the Act can be presented in a clearer, more concise and accessible form
  • whether there are opportunities to consolidate and simplify expectations placed on participants to deliver a more holistic statement of the requirements they must meet
  • whether today’s safety and security issues, and economic opportunities, are fully addressed, where appropriate, in the Act
  • the optimal regime for considering authorisation of airline cooperative arrangements (including the benefits and detriments to be considered and the process for this)
  • ways to improve data collection and reporting needs for the CAA, particularly following recent recommendations by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission
  • the relationship between the Act and the Airport Authorities Act 1966. The latter’s provisions may be able to be simplified and included in the Civil Aviation Act.

How does the Civil Aviation Authority’s review of the Aviation Security Service link with the Civil Aviation Act review?

The Board of the Civil Aviation Authority is undertaking a review of the Aviation Security Services’ business and funding model, as well as the quality and effectiveness of its services. The results of this review will inform the Civil Aviation Act review.

Who will be consulted?

All stakeholders will be involved in a formal consultation process in late January-end of February 2014.  Cabinet decisions are expected by mid-2014. If a Bill is introduced, submissions can be made at the select committee stage when the Bill is introduced to Parliament.

The Ministry welcomes feedback on issues that could be part of the Act Review, and, in particular, welcomes industry views on options to address those issues.

If there are specific matters within the Act that warrant review, they can be emailed to These issues may not require a legislative fix, but might support the Act’s implementation. 

Is there a possibility that the competition regime for international air services could be placed under the Commerce Act, like the proposal for international shipping services?

In 2012, the Productivity Commission report into international freight services(external link) recommended that the regime relating to cooperative agreements for both international air and shipping services be moved to the Commerce Act.

The Civil Aviation Act review will be looking at whether the competition regime for international air services should remain under the Civil Aviation Act or be moved to the Commerce Act.

Will a review of the Airport Authorities Act 1966 consider additional regulation of airport pricing?

The review of the Airport Authorities Act will include looking at the provisions relating to charges and information disclosure.  However, it is not the intention to use this review as a vehicle for imposing additional airport pricing regulation.

What is happening with the proposal to require the aviation sector to adopt safety management systems?

The Civil Aviation Authority is currently consulting on a proposal that would see the New Zealand aviation sector required to adopt a risk management approach to safety, along the lines of the Safety Management Systems required by the International Civil Aviation Organization. This consultation is separate from the review of the Civil Aviation Act. Many aviation businesses have already moved to such an approach. Cabinet approved release of the consultation document and the final date for submissions to the Civil Aviation Authority is 8 July.  

View the media release from the Civil Aviation Authority(external link)

Who will make the decisions?

Cabinet will make the decisions on the changes to be made to the Act, based on the recommendations of the Minister of Transport. If agreed, then the government will introduce a Bill to Parliament.

Who can I contact about the Act review?

Email Bev Driscoll or Bronwyn Lauten in the Ministry's Aviation and Security team. 

Useful links

Transport Regulatory Policy Statement (PDF, 713kb)

Government Statement on Regulation: Better Regulation, Less Regulation(external link)

New Horizons – a report on New Zealand’s aviation industry(external link)