Drummer's pilot's licence up in air over drug question

IN COURT:  AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd.
IN COURT: AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd.

AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd will today find out whether he can continue to fly his beloved helicopter.

Rudd, 59, has been accused of failing to disclose his drug use to get a helicopter pilot's licence.

In the Tauranga District Court yesterday, Rudd - dressed in snakeskin boots and leather jacket - pleaded not guilty to one charge of making a misleading statement in an application for a medical statement form to the question: Have you ever used any legal or illegal recreational drugs? He had replied "no".

However Rudd, through his lawyer, Paul Mabey, QC, admitted one charge of failing to maintain a pilot's logbook as required under the Civil Aviation Act between August 3, 2012, and April 30, 2012.

Prosecuting on behalf of Civil Aviation Authority, Fletcher Pilditch amended a second charge of failing to provide a logbook, to failing to maintain a logbook, after Rudd admitted to not keeping a logbook at all.

Mr Mabey accepted he could not provide a defence to that charge.

In the one-day defended hearing that varied between heated and humorous exchanges, Rudd refuted that he knew the question in the medical form was to draw out all historical drug use.

Rudd, during questioning, said he would have revealed to CAA medical examiner Dr Jeffrey Brownless during his June 13, 2012 appointment of his drug "bust" by police in 2010 when a total of 24 grams of cannabis was found on his boat and in his house.

Mr Pilditch said Rudd had flown his helicopter on five occasions during the alleged offence period, including solo flights.

Mr Pilditch said Rudd's signed declaration was a "deliberate attempt" to mislead the CAA so that he could obtain his pilot's licence.

Rudd had first obtained his pilot's licence in 1985 but it expired after a law change in 1990.

But Mr Mabey told Judge Louis Bidois, that the prosecution was making his client out to be a "liar" by inferring that he purposefully said no to the question regarding drug use.

"The allegation is that he lied and he denies that, and that is the unvarnished subject, that he intentionally and deliberately answered the question . . . ‘no' . . . that Rudd has taken it upon himself to lie."

In giving evidence, Rudd told Mr Pilditch that once the first of his six kids were born in 1989 he gave up flying.

"I could either have the kids or the helicopter, you know how it goes."

Rudd, in questioning from Mr Mabey, said he gave up smoking cannabis after the 2010 raid so that was why he said "no" to the question about drug use.

Rudd filled out his medical certificate on June 13, 2012.

It was through an internet search, the CAA discovered Rudd's much publicised drug bust in 2010 when police searched his boat and home in Tauranga uncovering 24g of cannabis.

He also confessed to police at the time that he had used cannabis since he was 18 years old and "occasionally cocaine since the 80s".

Rudd's drug conviction for possession of cannabis was eventually quashed on appeal in April 2011.

Rudd, who said he wanted to become a pilot since age 6, became irritated during questioning from Mr Pilditch regarding his drug use, in particular to cocaine, at one point standing up saying "you want to go outside?" "I'm just trying to work out why you're trying to make a liar out of me? Is that what you're doing, bro?" Rudd asked Mr Pilditch.

Dr Brownless was questioned at length by Mr Mabey about who it was that ticked the various "no" boxes on the application form.

Dr Brownless maintained that Rudd ticked the boxes himself, but after viewing the form said he did tick one as it was performed with a "tick" rather than a cross.

Dr Brownless said he asked Rudd if he had drug convictions to which he replied "no", so he didn't take the questioning any further.

Dr Brownless told Mr Mabey that he "didn't believe my role as medical examiner is to be detective".

"My role is to get . . . an assessment of the safety of the pilot. It's not an easy thing to do in some circumstances."

He said the proposition that he filled out the form for Rudd was "incredible" and "strange".

In questioning Dr Brownless about why he asked Rudd if he had drug convictions, Judge Bidois asked Dr Brownless if he had heard of AC/DC.

"I have heard of AC/DC but I couldn't tell you any of their songs," Dr Brownless replied.

"You know they're a rock band with pretty heavy music?" Judge Bidois asked.

"Yes," Dr Brownless replied.

Judge Bidois indicated he would release his findings this afternoon.

Outside court, Rudd, when questioned whether he would be back flying in New Zealand, said: "I've never been very good in court - I don't do court . . . I'm not a liar, I'm a good pilot but if he tells me I can't fly then I won't fly."

Rudd is also at the centre of an employment row involving his Tauranga restaurant, Phil's Place, which reopened last July.

Rudd lost his name suppression battle with the Employment Relations Authority. He claimed there would be a "negative impact" on Phil's Place and that he was a "well-known musician with security concerns if his identity was revealed".

ERA member Tania Tetitaha declined Rudd's application. When questioned by the Times about that hearing, Rudd declined to make any statement.

Waikato Times