Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester has also called for an “urgent briefing” from CASA into the explosive case of alleged plane tampering in Mount Isa.
Josh Hoch, 31, was arrested on Tuesday afternoon in Mount Isa and charged with 342 counts across 14 offenses, including tampering with aircraft, dangerous operation of aircraft and fraud, allegedly committed from 2013 through to 2016.
Mount Isa Magistrates Court heard on Wednesday that Hoch had allegedly tampered with his competitors’ planes on five different occasions to win commercial contracts and had flown members of the Katter Australia Party around North Queensland, including Bob Katter spending $257,000 on chartering flights with Hoch.
Mr Chester yesterday asked the country’s aviation watchdog for a report into all aspects of the case and investigation against Hoch.
“Given the serious nature of the allegations I have requested a full report from CASA and an urgent briefing on all aspects of the investigation,” Mr Chester said.
“With legal proceedings underway, I’m not in a position to comment any further at this stage.”
A CASA spokeswoman said they had launched their own review into the dealings they have had with Hoch, their investigative process and auditing process.
“CASA has launched an internal review to determine whether any significant safety-related issues involving Mr. Hoch and the operations of Hoch Air were, or ought to have been, identified and acted on prior to launch of the police investigation and the arrest of Mr. Hoch,” the spokeswoman said.
“We are currently reviewing our records to inform such safety-related action as we may need to take now, and to ensure the integrity and sufficiency of our entry control, audit and surveillance activities. Should we need to, we will look more closely at any aspect of our regulatory functions should additional attention be required.”
The spokeswoman said CASA needed to have evidence to act on, rather than unsubstantiated claims of actions.
“It is important to remember that, like any other regulatory authority, CASA is only able to act on evidence that tends to show there has been a breach of the regulations, not on unsubstantiated claims of such conduct,” she said.
“It would be premature for CASA to comment further on this at this time.
“We will not comment on the criminal allegations against Mr. Hoch.
“These are matters before the court and any questions should be directed to the prosecutorial authority.”
Hoch walked from Mount Isa watch-house yesterday after posting the $50,000 surety he failed to produce when given bail on Wednesday.
Kennedy MP Bob Katter spent $257,000 on chartered flights with alleged fraudster pilot Josh Hoch, the Mount Isa Magistrates Court was told.
Hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars may have been paid to alleged fraudster Josh Hoch, with a court hearing Kennedy MP spent $257,000 on chartered flights with the pilot.
Prosecutor Sergeant Vaughan Cooper yesterday detailed Mr. Katter’s expenses with Mr. Hoch, at his bail application for more than 300 offenses.
“The offenses the defendant faces are serious, not only those five offences (tampering with aircraft), but also the offenses of fraud,” Sgt Cooper said.
“Your honor will note the defendant using, without accreditation, aircraft to fly the honourable Bob Katter without the correct accreditation.
“Allowing him to pilot and receive payment for these charters and that will be alleged your honour is some $257,000 and I do round that down.
“The case against the defendant regarding those matters is strong.”
According to documents from the Department of Finance, Mr Katter claimed more than $53,000 on chartered flights in the first half of 2016 alone.
The Kennedy MP is given a large travel allowance, particularly for charter flights, to traverse a massive electorate that is bigger than some countries.
Mr. Katter would not comment when contacted by the Bulletin over the charges against Koch.
“As this matter is now before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment,” he said.
Senator Ian Macdonald said he would take up industry regulation concerns with Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester.
“I will certainly be following this up with the Transport Minister … I’m quite confident he has already been briefed but this is clearly a matter for the police and CASA investigators to report to him with any recommendations of any new regulatory action,” he said.
“I’m very curious in this instance how this has not come to their attention previously … CASA should have been leading the charge rather than police.”
Herbert MP Cathy O’Toole said it was necessary to look further into the current level of oversight after the arrest of Hoch.
“Questions need to be asked, and answers provided, about what officials did and did not know,” she said.
“How can this happen surely needs to be the question. The real issue is that we have absolutely no certainty that incidents of this nature are not falling through the gap.”
CASA records show the regulator issued Hoch Air with an Air Operators Certificate on December 8, even though CASA had been co-operating with the Queensland Police investigation for two months. The AOC is valid for four years.
Queensland Police charged the principal and pilot Josh Hoch, 31, this week with offences that include five counts of tampering with competitors’ fuel. Police allege that Mr Hoch added an “abrasive material directly into engines” which caused a catastrophic failure and forced the landing of two aircraft. Engine failure occurred to two other planes prior to take-off.
Kennedy MP Bob Katter allegedly spent $257,000 on charter flights with Hoch Air although Mr Hoch was unlicensed at the time. Mr Katter’s office declined to comment. CASA’s licensing of Hoch Air appears to be inconsistent with the Queensland Police statement, which says that a “review of aircraft security and passenger safety at Mount Isa Airport was immediately commenced” as part of the investigation launched in October. “Additional measures were implemented to further ensure the safety of passengers and crews,” the police added.
A CASA spokeswoman said the regulator was “actively reviewing information arising out of the Queensland Police investigation and will take such further action as necessary”. CASA could not comment further.
Police asked the Mount Isa Court to refuse bail, but the magistrate granted it. However, Mr Hoch’s family was unable to raise the $50,000 bond by Wednesday afternoon and as a result he spent a second night in the Mount Isa watch-house.
Mr Hoch’s defence lawyer, Michael Spearman, blasted CASA, telling the Mount Isa court: “CASA has known about these flights since 2013. Now if CASA had any concern about a pilot it can invoke provisions of section 30DC of the Civil Aviation Act, instantly grounding a pilot if there is a serious and imminent risk to air safety.
“CASA has not done so, despite knowing of the allegations for months. These started back in October (2016) and certainly those charges from back in 2013,” the Townsville Bulletin reported.
Mr Spearman added that CASA had conducted an audit of Mr Hoch and his company earlier last year, yet he was allowed to remain in the air.
Ben Morgan, executive director at Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said the incident showed CASA was far too focused on “misdemeanours” while allowing serious wrongdoing to go unchecked.
“If in fact CASA were not aware this is absolutely serious and it’s going to need the minister’s attention to work out how the regulator let this slip through the cracks,” he said.
“CASA is in court with misdemeanour pilot activities when something as brazen as this has been going on for four years.”
Former CASA chairman Dick Smith said the regulator was a “totally dysfunctional organisation”. He said he had tried to introduce an “administrative fines system” that would replace the system of continuously writing letters to non-compliers.
The investigation also uncovered extraordinary evidence relating to the alleged grievous bodily harm of an aircraft engineer at Charters Towers in July 2014. The engineer, aged in his 60s, sustained “permanent and life-changing head injuries”, the police statement said.
Read more here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au
North Queensland aviators do not want a knee-jerk reaction by aviation regulators following a Mount Isa pilot’s arrest on Tuesday.
Hinchinbrook Deputy Mayor Mary Brown, who is also co-owner of North Queensland Aviation Services, said the alleged actions of Josh Hoch did not reflect the industry as a whole.
Chief pilot Joshua Liddle, of Liddles Air Service, said he was shocked by the allegations, but the Civil Aviation Authority was already “heavy-handed” in enforcing regulations.
Hoch, 31, was bailed on Wednesday over charges of tampering with aircraft, but has spent two nights behind bars after failing to pay a $50,000 surety before close of business on Wednesday.
Ms Brown said aviation in the North had a very strong safety record and backed CASA’s decision to await a review of police information before considering taking further action.
“I would appeal to people not to think in general aviation, behaviour in this manner is common,” she said.
“Fundamentally, we are a very safety-conscious community and on the whole, operators out there will also do the right thing.
“Unfortunately this particular case appears to have tarnished that and I would hate to see a knee-jerk reaction from the regulators that has a negative impact on general aviation.”
Mr Liddle said the industry was tightly controlled so he was “bewildered” by the allegations.
“I am extremely surprised,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of contracts with government agencies and bigger businesses and the qualifications and experience we need and the auditing process we have to go through as operators is very stringent.”
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, in Townsville yesterday for Australia Day commitments, would not be drawn on the aviation controversy or whether CASA should be reviewed.
“They would be Commonwealth matters but I think you would probably need to ask the Police Commissioner,” she said.
Kevin Gill, Queensland Airports Ltd’s chief operating officer for Townsville, Mount Isa and Longreach airports, did not return calls.
Josh Hoch's solicitor Michael Spearman leaves the Mount Isa Police Station watch house on Wednesday afternoon.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has been plunged into chaos, labeled as “dysfunctional” in the wake of claims it knew about concerns over Mount Isa pilot Josh Hoch as early as 2013.
Lawyer Michael Spear told a court at Mr. Hoch’s bail appearance that CASA had known about conduct related to the 342 charges police had laid.
“(The flights) have happened since 2013, CASA has known about these flights since 2013,” he said.
“Now if CASA had any concern about a pilot it can invoke provisions of section 30DC of the Civil Aviation Act instantly grounding a pilot if there is a serious and imminent risk to air safety.
“Now CASA has not done so, despite knowing of the allegations for months, these started back in October (2016) and certainly those charges from back in 2013.
“CASA conducted an audit for Mr Hoch and his company and reissued his AOC (Air Operators Certificate) earlier last year.
“If CASA hasn’t grounded him, they don’t consider him to be a serious risk to the public and I would submit that CASA would be far more cognisant of safety in aviation than the police service.”
Entrepreneur Dick Smith, a former Civil Aviation Authority chairman and advocate for reform, said it did not surprise him to hear the authority had known about accusations but not acted.
“CASA is a totally dysfunctional organisation and because of that I would believe anything,” he said.
“This seems to be an ongoing problem. It tends to concentrate on the good players and the rogue ones are too hard I think. It’s basically very weak.
“Some of these alleged acts also seem to involve oversight at the local airports, I wonder if people have known about this bloke and done nothing.”
Mr. Smith said CASA did not aggressively pursue rule breakers.
“As chairman I introduced an administrative fines system. Instead of writing continuous letters to noncompliers they would be fined.
“After the Seaview disaster we discovered the regulator knew what was going on but just kept writing letters.”
But the organisation has held back on any pledge to conduct an internal review, with a spokeswoman committing to read the current police investigation.
“CASA personnel have been working closely with Queensland Police in Operation Oscar-Demotic since October 2016, culminating in Mr Hoch’s arrest,” she said.
“Our role involved the provision of specialist aviation-related technical advice.
“CASA is actively reviewing information arising out of the Queensland Police investigation and will take such further action as necessary.”
The department did not answer questions about whether CASA had received complaints about Mr Hoch in previous years or whether it would conduct its own research into how he received his licences
“It would be inappropriate to comment further on those matters at this point due to ongoing investigations,” she said.
“It is important to note that the vast majority of commercial aircraft operators in Australia are professional, responsible pilots who put safety as their number one priority and comply with all relevant safety regulations.”
The Mount Isa charter pilot alleged to have put glass beads in his rivals’ planes is to be granted bail from the Mount Isa Magistrates Court.
However, Josh Hoch will likely be in the Mount Isa Police Station watch house on Australia Day. Part of his conditions set by Magistrate Stephen Guttridge is that Mr. Hoch supply $50,000 surety before release.
The Mount Isa Court House had not received the surety or approved the paperwork by its closing time of 4.30pm, Wednesday. The court opens again at 8.30am on Friday. Thursday is the Australia Day public holiday.
Mr. Hoch is to appear again before the Mount Isa Magistrates Court on February 22. He is charged with 342 offenses.
Police prosecutor Sergeant Vaughan Cooper opposed bail and said five of the charges had a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
“He is at risk of flight, quite literally,” Sergeant Cooper said.
“His capacity not just to leave Queensland, but Australia.”
Sergeant Cooper said one of the charges related to a Piper Chieftain plane that lost power flying from the Northern Territory to Mount Isa. There were three people on board. Sergeant Cooper alleged that an inspection of the plane revealed glass beads in the oil filter.
Sergeant Cooper alleged also that oil had been removed from a Cessna plane kept at the Mount Isa Airport. This was discovered during a daily inspection on August 18, 2016.
On September, 2016, a Piper Chieftain about to fly from Mount Isa to Burketown experienced loss of oil pressure, the court heard. The flight was aborted. An oil sample allegedly showed glass beads, metals and dirt mixed in with it, Sergeant Cooper said.
On October 6 to 7 a Cessna belonging to the Northern Territory Air Services, travelling between Alice Springs and Mount Isa, experienced low pressure. Glass beads were allegedly found in the engines, Sergeant Cooper said.
On October 18 a pilot on another plane noticed a drop in pressure. The plane arrived in Mount Isa safely. It is alleged that an inspection found paste in the oil system.
Sergeant Cooper said other offences included fraud. Mr Hoch is alleged to have supplied two fraudulent insurance claims.
Mr. Hoch did not have proper accreditation of an aircraft, the prosecutor alleges.
The court heard that Mr Hoch has flown Federal Member for Kennedy Bob Katter and Katters Australian Party State MPs Rob Katter and Shane Knuth through his charter service. The Federal MP has paid $275,000 in total to Mr Hoch for his charter services.
The prosecutor alleges further that the defendant has flown an aircraft to hide it from police.
Mr. Hoch’s solicitor Michael Spearman, Resolute Legal’s principal lawyer, said the charges were “quite circumstantial” and said many of the charges “doubled-up”.
Mr. Spearman said that Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has known of Mr Hoch’s flights since 2013. They could have grounded him immediately if they had concerns with the pilot and audited the company, he said.
“Despite knowing of the allegations for months they could have grounded him.”
Mr Hoch has already suffered a “trial by jury” and it has affected his business. He also has two young children and a long-term partner.
“There are significant stresses in the family right at this point,” Mr Spearman said.
Other bail conditions is that Mr Hoch not apply for a passport. If he has one he must surrender it.
Mr. Hoch cannot pilot a plane or enter an airport. He must also report to the Mount Isa Police Station on specific days twice a week. He also must not contact witnesses.
Read more here: http://www.northweststar.com.au
Police arrested 31-year-old Josh Hoch, whose Linkedin profile lists him as the owner, director and chief pilot of Hoch Air, on Tuesday after a three-month investigation.
His charges stretched back to July 2014, when he allegedly attacked an aircraft engineer in Charters Towers, leaving him with "permanent and life-changing head injuries", and raised serious questions about aircraft security at Mount Isa and Charters Towers airports.
Police alleged Mr. Hoch targeted two private air charter operations, but not major commercial carriers, at Mount Isa and Charters Towers.
Aviation experts found "abrasive material" applied directly into engines caused the "catastrophic engine failure" and the forced landing of two planes, police alleged.
Another two suffered engine failures identified before they took off.
The incidents sparked a safety review at Mount Isa Airport, which police said resulted in new measures put in place and no further aircrafts being damaged.
Police also alleged fraudulent insurance claims, flying without a license, dangerous operation of aircraft and "numerous" safety breaches, mostly at Mount Isa and Charters Towers.
Police said a "significant witness had come forward in relation to the aircraft damage but appealed for anyone else who knew anything to get in touch.
Mr. Hoch's 342 charges include numerous counts of endangering the safety of a person in a vehicle with intent, dangerous operation of a vehicle, flying aircraft without a license, fraud offenses, and offenses in relation to aircraft.
He is due in Mount Isa Magistrates Court on Wednesday.
Chief Pilot of Hoch Air Josh Hoch
Josh Hoch, 31, was intercepted by police about 2.30pm yesterday on a highway east of the town and last night charged with more than 300 offences going back several years.
The company is a significant player in the western commercial travel market and it is believed VIPs, including politicians, may have flown with Hoch at times from 2012 to 2016 when he is alleged to have been unlicensed.
The arrest poses serious questions about rural airport security and will plunge the Civil Aviation Safety Authority into crisis as police and officials probe what the authority knew or should have known about the claims against Hoch.
Last night senior police told the Bulletin the arrest was the culmination of several months of investigative work.
Hoch was questioned for seven hours before being charged with 342 counts of 14 different offenses late last night.
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 safety aspect was considered right from the start of the investigation. We had methodologies in place to ensure the continued safety of aircraft on that apron,” he said.
“At no stage was there any chance for tampering on any commercial aircraft at the Mount Isa Airport.”
Insp Hodgman said it was one of the most in-depth and unique investigations he had been part of in 30 years.
“There was a dedicated bunch of detectives who put in a lot of long hours to pull this investigation off,” he said.
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 Hoch’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.
Hoch has also been charged with insurance fraud relating to the alleged staged crash landing of two planes in 2014 and 2015.
It is understood Hoch had flown Katter’s Australian Party politicians Bob Katter, Robbie Katter and Shane Knuth around the North and it is believed he has been chartered by other politicians and clients as well.
It will also be alleged Hoch was masking those commercial flights as private trips and would not log flight hours in order to bypass crucial maintenance checks.
Hoch is set to face Mount Isa Magistrates Court this morning.