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Jan 26, 2017

Rogue pilot revelations show CASA tolerated his activities for years

Details of the rogue pilot police operation reflect very poorly on air safety regulator CASA

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Hoch Air website today features a private hotline

CASA has given information to the Townsville Bulletin about the rogue bush pilot Josh Hoch which confirms its utter contempt for the safety of the flying public and its inability to effectively regulate air safety in Australia.

A Queensland police investigation has this week led to Hoch being charged on 342 counts concerning 14 alleged offences involving among other matters the claimed sabotaging of aircraft flown by rival general aviation or small regional operations out of Mt Isa airport.

Two of the aircraft Hoch allegedly tampered with by putting glass beads into their oil systems had crash landed without loss of life.

Three aircraft are alleged to have been interfered with, risking potential loss of life, on four separate occasions by Hoch in 2016 alone.

Hoch has also been reportedly charged over several alleged cases of insurance fraud involving aircraft.

However in the Townsville Bulletin story, a CASA spokesperson confirms that the safety regulator knew about claims about Hoch’s activities since 2013, and had worked closely with the police investigation since last October.

What happened in relation to Hoch’s activities between 2013, or possibly ever further back, and a very large police operation toward the end of last year, has yet to be laid out for public scrutiny.

But Plane Talking has a copy of a CASA document showing that Hoch and his company didn’t receive a charter approval and air operator certificate until December 8 last year, by which time the safety regulator on its own admission had participated in the police inquiries for two months.

If as this implies Hoch’s operations were unlicensed and unapproved by CASA for all or part of the time they were taking place up until December 8 last year the safety regulator is in obvious and quite possibly criminally negligent breaches of a number of acts.

How CASA could claim to have conducted a satisfactory audit of Hoch’s operations given the brief published by Queensland police and extensively reported in the Townsville Bulletin is a vitally important question.

CASA is on its record an organisation totally indifferent to the blood on its hands from recent blatant failures to carry out it duties. It doesn’t recognise its guilt or its incompetence, and it has made fools of the aviation ministers responsible for its activities for at least as far back as the Seaview disaster of 1994.

The safety regulator also knew of the lethal potential of the operation and principal operative of Transair long before it flew a small turboprop into a hillside when attempting to land at Lockhart River in 2005, killing all 15 people on board.

CASA failed to act on the unfavourable results of an audit of the operations of the Pel-Air fleet of Westwind corporate jets before one of them ditched in stormy seas off Norfolk Island in 2009. It subsequently attempted to suppress that audit with the co-operation of the ATSB, the accident investigator, but was found out by a highly critical all party Senate committee hearing into what remains an unfinished saga. The ATSB was forced to withdraw its first accident report into the Pel-Air crash, which was a shamefully inadequate investigation, and its new inquiry, which was supposed to report more than a year ago, is understood to have run into a number of ‘difficulties’.

The actions of CASA in relation to a pilot who may have been unlicensed for the purposes of his operations for a prolonged period of activity during which police allege he could have killed the occupants of planes which he had sabotaged require very close scrutiny by the Minister for Infrastructure, Darren Chester.

Not scrutiny passed off to his discredited civil servants who have apparently talked nonsense to him since he took up the portfolio last year.  Real scrutiny, by the Minister, of the performance of what many see as a rogue organisation that has a culture of tolerating known unsafe operations.

Will the Hoch scandal be a turning point in the restoration of effective air safety regulation in Australia, or is it just another ‘nothing-to-see-here-media-beatup’ along a pathway to future catastrophe?

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