A recidivist conman harbouring a fantasy that he's a pilot has been firmly grounded after being caught flying a plane he pretended he wanted to buy.
Brian Hunter, who has more than 160 dishonesty convictions and a previous conviction for impersonating a flight instructor, has been sentenced to 300 hours' community work after pleading guilty to flying a plane without a licence.
Hunter, 54, appeared before Judge Tony Adeane in Napier District Court yesterday.
In September 2012, he contacted a man in Mahia who was selling a Cessna 172B aircraft, and said he was interested in buying it.
Introducing himself as Brian Shaw, and saying he had significant flying experience in Australia and New Zealand in various types of aircraft, he arranged to go for a flight.
The seller did not ask to see his licence. They flew the plane to Portland Island, off Mahia Peninsula, and made a few circuits over Wairoa, with Hunter taking control and landing and taking off a couple of times.
They discussed the sale of the plane over a few subsequent phone calls, but nothing eventuated.
A few weeks later the plane's owner discussed his encounter with "Brian Shaw" with aviation associates. They suggested he might have been duped by Hunter, who was well known in aviation circles for his previous convictions.
The man looked into the matter and found a photo of Hunter in an old newspaper article. He reported the matter to the Civil Aviation Authority, which began investigating.
Last January, the man saw Hunter in the Wairarapa Aeroclub in Masterton. Hunter left when he saw him, and drove away at speed.
An investigator spoke to Hunter in February and charges were laid a few months later.
Hunter's lawyer, Philip Jensen, said Hunter was accompanied by a licensed pilot for the entire flight. He had always wanted to be a pilot, and it was a matter of "someone having a rush of blood to the head and doing a foolish thing".
He said that, despite being "a litigious person", Hunter had chosen to enter an early guilty plea.
Judge Adeane said: "The golden days of aviation are over, Mr Jensen," and he told Hunter there was "an undercurrent in all of this that you obtain the enjoyment of a conman".
He sentenced him to 300 hours' community work and said that if he breached the Civil Aviation Act again, he would go to jail.
- © Fairfax NZ News