There are a host of serious but as yet unanswered questions arising from a police operation against an alleged rogue bush pilot in Queensland.
Plane Talking wasn’t in court to hear any of the matters reported in great depth, and with extensive comments from the investigating police, and with a photo of the accused pilot, in the Courier-Mail today.
The report is currently outside the paywall on Google.
What Plane Talking can add to the published information is that the pilot alleged to have flown VIPS and politicians while unlicensed, and to have caused rivals to crash land their aircraft because he sabotaged them with contaminated fuel, did not have his company’s charter and aerial work AOC issued by CASA until last December 8.
It was earlier reported that these approvals were ‘renewed’. This was incorrect. The inference from the CASA records and the police commentary on the case is that CASA has been totally unaware of, or negligent in failing to act, on this pilot and his operation running for perhaps three years as an unregulated and thus unlawful operation.
CASA hasn’t yet responded to questions about the status of the pilot and his operation, and whether or not it even became aware of these activities before the police operation began.
These are very serious questions as to the competency of CASA. There may be an explanation for the situation outlined by the police that in some way exonerates CASA, but CASA’s inability to respond to even the most basic of inquiries, or take some sort of responsibility for what seems like a potentially very serious threat to public safety, is itself a cause for concern.
Is there an explanation for what the police have outlined? Were the police wrong? Has CASA been right up there on top of the issues, beavering away to protect the public with the superb success it demonstrated in the Lockhart River catastrophe of 2005? Does CASA actually give a flying stuff? Or are we just going to get more of the smug crap that our safety regulator dishes out to the public and ministers alike?
If as the police claim, they ensured that operations at Mt Isa airport were rendered safe from the actions of this pilot throughout their investigations, how could that possibly have occurred without the knowledge and co-operation of CASA?
Did CASA grant these approvals in ignorance of the police inquiries, or with full knowledge of the allegations that have led to the pilot concerned being charged on 342 counts concerning 14 alleged offences.
Were any of those offences brought under the provisions of CASA regulations?
To quote from the Courier-Mail report:
Detective Inspector Chris Hodgman said it was only by sheer luck that no one had died when one of the allegedly sabotaged planes took to the sky.
“We are lucky over a number of years that an alleged rogue operator like this wasn’t responsible for a disaster,” Insp Hodgman said.
“Two engine failures and the forced landing of the aircraft has happened — the pilots … were lucky to walk away.”
Insp Hodgman said safety measures were put in place as soon as police became aware of the alleged offending.
The Courier-Mail report also says:
Detectives working under Operation Oscar-Demotic allegedly uncovered evidence of fraud, tampering with aircraft, dangerous operation of aircraft and numerous aircraft safety breaches.
Police will allege they became aware of the defendant’s alleged offending in October last year when another pilot reported damage to his plane for the second time that year.
It is understood detectives are investigating four such claims of tampering on three planes in 2016 alone.
It will be alleged each case was the same, with a contaminant poured into the fuel tanks of the aircraft, under the cover of darkness at Mount Isa Airport.
When the engines fired, the contaminant caused “catastrophic” damage to the aircraft, grounding the planes for months, it is alleged.
The defendant has also been charged with insurance fraud relating to the alleged staged crash landing of two planes in 2014 and 2015.
It is difficult to reconcile CASA’s issuing approvals of the pilot’s company’s operations approvals with the details reported by the Courier-Mail.
Updated The Minister responsible for aviation, Darren Chester, has been out of range much of the day but sent this comment early this evening.
As Minister, I am a regular user of general aviation flights and I am constantly impressed by the professionalism and expertise of our pilots and their dedication to safety.
I won’t comment on the specifics of this matter given there is an ongoing investigation underway.