A Melbourne teen charged with hacking airport radio transmissions faces 20 years in jail

Photo: Cameron Spencer/ Getty Images.

A 19-year-old boy has been charged with hacking airport radio transmissions to pilots and air-traffic controllers at Melbourne and Avalon airports.

Paul Sant of Rockbank, north-west of Melbourne, was arrested by the Australian Federal Police on Monday and faced Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday afternoon.

He has been charged with four counts of endangering the safety of aircraft and one count of interference likely to endanger safety.

It has been alleged that Sant made 16 separate, unauthorised radio transmissions at Melbourne and Avalon airports between September 5 and November 3, with one call allegedly forcing a Virgin plane to abort its landing.

The offences carry a maximum penalty of 20 years’ jail.

Sant has been remanded until Monday, when he is expected to make an application for bail.

His lawyer told the court Sant had been diagnosed with autism and depression, but was not on any medication.

When the security breach was revealed earlier in the month John Lyons, president of Virgin Independent Pilots Australia, said that any person with the right knowledge using a simple VHF radio equipment could tap the transmissions.

“It’s not hard for someone to obtain,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that spend a lot of time observing aircraft at airports, and many of them have radios that monitor frequencies. But most of them just listen.

“In a worst case scenario, an aircraft will be told to go around, but there’s an aircraft on a runway crossing that runway.”

Airservices Australia operations manager Steven Clarke told The Age there was no current threat to the safety and security of the travelling public as a result of the alleged transmissions.

“Airservices has appropriate procedures, processes and systems in place to ensure the safety of aviation operations at Melbourne and Avalon airports, and across the country and for the travelling public,” he said.