Cessnock helicopter crash: Pilot Richard Green's battle with Civil Aviation Safety Authority over licence

Richard Green and his wife Carolyn. Picture: Sunday Night
Richard Green and his wife Carolyn. Picture: Sunday Night

THE millionaire helicopter pilot killed in the triple-fatality in the Watagans had once had his pilot’s licence suspended during a long-running dispute with the industry’s safety authority regarding safety concerns and his ability as an engineer.

Richard Green, his wife Carolyn and renowned documentary maker John Davis were killed when Mr Green’s EC135 helicopter crashed near Cessnock on Saturday.

Police are in charge of a coronial investigation while the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will take carriage of the investigation into what may have caused the crash, which occurred on the same day a series of thunderstorms were travelling through the Hunter.

It follows a decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia in 2013 to reject an application by Mr Green for a stay against his pilot’s licence being suspended for six months by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).

The decision found a ‘‘pattern of non-compliance over some years’’ by Mr Green and rejected claims the incidents were trivial but ‘‘posed a risk to aviation safety’’.

Mr Green rejected the allegations and argued he was being pursued by CASA with malice and he was being victimised by the authority.

It had followed Mr Green, a retired engineer, winning a long-running dispute with CASA in 2011 over whether he was qualified to do his own maintenance on his helicopter, the same machine that crashed in the Watagans on Saturday.

CASA had suspended Mr Green’s licence in 2013, citing a list of five incidents in 2012, as well as earlier alleged trangressions , including four times in a week where it was claimed there were risks of a collision between Mr Green’s helicopter and another aircraft.

It included flying within 10 metres, and directly above, another helicopter; flying so close to an aircraft that pilots had to ‘‘hold the aircraft down in fear of it being flown into the fuel bowser’’; a near-collision with a Cessna Caravan aircraft; and flying close to two aircraft ‘‘in an unnecessary manoeuvre, creating risk of damage to those aircraft, or injury to persons in the vicinity of the aircraft, generated by his downdraft’’.

A fifth allegation cited an incident in November, 2012, where Mr Green’s helicopter struck overhead power lines about 105 metres from take off.

‘‘The power line snagged on the fenestron [protected tail rotor] of the helicopter and pulled the power line until it tore the top portion of the fenestron off (Mr Green’s helicopter registration) VH-GKK,’’ CASA was quoted in written submissions to the tribunal.

‘‘The applicant [Mr Green] flew the aircraft a further 200m across the gully before landing and inspecting the damage.

‘‘The damage was significant, and the aircraft was unsafe for further flight, however, despite this, the applicant then proceeded to fly the aircraft approximately 250m in breach of subsection 20AA(4) of the CA Act.’’

The tribunal also heard Mr Green had been ‘‘counselled’’ by CASA in 2007 where he is alleged to have failed to record extensive damage to rotor blades after it struck a tree and carried out ‘‘unauthorised repairs, and the applicant undertook flights in the aircraft after carrying out the unauthorised repairs’’.

Mr Green had argued that CASA had made the decision in malice and that he was being victimised by the authority, and that he would be vindicated when he produced evidence.

He did not admit to the allegations and claimed there was a ‘‘clear inference of collusion and false testimony being unavoidable’’ because most of the claims had come from one location.

In refusing Mr Green application for a stay, tribunal senior member Geri Ettinger said safety of air navigation and of the public ‘‘must be of utmost concern to this tribunal’’.

‘‘I note that CASA did not exercise its discretion to cancel Mr Green’s licences...as it could have in appropriate circumstances such as where the application was an imminent danger to safety,’’ Ms Ettinger said in the written judgment.

‘‘However, as noted in the reviewable decision and the respondent’s submissions, there has been a pattern of non-compliance over some years.

She later added: ‘‘Taking into account the discussion of the non-compliance issues in the reviewable decision, I am satisfied that the incidents were far from being able to be characterised as trivial, and am satisfied that they posed a risk to aviation safety’’.