CAA victimisation claim

by Chris Griffith
Published 26 November 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


A Longreach pilot has accused the Civil Aviation Authority of 13 years of victimisation.

Peter Sheehan said the authority had also unsuccessfully prosecuted him after he flew a 38-week pregnant mother to hospital during the April 1990 floods.

A pilot since 1978 and a long-time public critic of Australia's civil aviation bureaucracy, Mr Sheehan said he was still waiting for the CAA to process his Air Operator's Certificate application and Chief Pilot application submitted five years ago in 1990.

He said the qualification was vital to his commercial flying operation.

Mr Sheehan said he had proof some CAA investigators had continued to victimise him and had manufactured allegations against him, a situation which had delayed the authority's approval of his certificate.

He said his proof included written statements by pilots that CAA investigators had been elsewhere when they claimed to have seen him breaching air safety regulations.

Mr Sheehan is a well known critic of Australia's civil aviation bureaucracy.

In 1984 he contributed to former CAA chairman Dick Smith's book "Two Years in the Aviation Hall of Doom", claiming civil aviation was overburdened with bureaucracy and over-regulated.

Mr Sheehan said the CAA's victimisation of him included two unsuccessful court prosecutions initiated against him.

He said the first occurred in 1989 when he was charged with breaching air safety regulations "for taking off four minutes before first light". He was initially convicted, however the conviction was overturned on appeal to the Rockhampton District Court in July 1990.

But he was soon charged again, this time with conducting an illegal return flight from Longreach to Muttaburra during the floods in April 1990.

He said his plane carried medical staff from Longreach to Muttaburra to collect a 38- week pregnant mother, and then flew back to Longreach. He said the flight was needed after local roads had been cut, and the hospital's regular flight charter service was unavailable.

However, the charge failed again. A Longreach District Court jury acquitted Mr Sheehan in October 1993.

With the court cases behind him, he then inquired about the status of his Air Operator's Certificate application. To his dismay, in March 1994 the CAA wrote, saying it was conducting a new investigation which had further delayed assessment of his application.

The CAA said "a routine surveillance of a maintenance organisation in North Queensland" had found "serious anomalies" in the maintenance of a Cessna 172 aircraft owned by Mr Sheehan.

"Initial investigations of the above matters has raised doubts as to whether you have a satisfactory record in the conduct or management of flying operations," it said.

Mr Sheehan said he still did not know the outcome of this new investigation -- 18 months after it began.

A spokesperson for the recently renamed Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Derek Roylance, said he would not comment on Mr Sheehan's case, nor the merits of a particular pilot being granted an Air Operator's Certificate.

He said Mr Sheehan "understands the reasons why" the certificate had not yet been approved, and stressed the CASA had to make sure proposed commercial operations met all regulations, including safety requirements.

Mr Roylance said the authority only recommended prosecutions. It was the role of the Director of Prosecutions to decide whether to pursue a charge through the courts.

Mr Sheehan, meanwhile, is biting back at the authority which he says has persecuted him for 13 years. He is pursuing his own claim that a CAA officer had committed perjury at one of the hearings against him.

In March 1993, he said he won an Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearing in an action designed to force the authority to speed up processing his 1990 application, but said the authority torpedoed this move by challenging the tribunal's jurisdiction to hear his case.

He said the CAA had succeeded with only one claim against him during all his years of battles -- that he once flew an ultralight aircraft within eight kilometres of an aerodrome.

"The law was amended before the matter went to court to allow ultralight aircrafts to land in aerodromes," he said.

Mr Sheehan last month flew to Forbes, NSW where he was presented with the "Order of the Flying Anchor", a national award for his fight against the costs and bureaucratic excesses of civil aviation.