Deadly Charter Flights: An industry group is expressing concern about illegal charters a week after a troubling report on a 2017 Learjet crash

Football star Emiliano Sala’s death when the Piper Malibu he was flying crashed is raising safety issues days after a report cited pilot qualifications in a 2017 Learjet crash in the U.S.

A letter sent today by BACA, The Air Charter Association (of Europe), to its members is highlighting safety concerns in the sometimes murky world of private jet charter, which includes piston and turboprop aircraft in addition to jets.

This comes days after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said both pilots in the May 15, 2017 crash of a Learjet 35A during its approach to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey failed to follow company standard operating procedures. Both pilots died and there were no passengers onboard.

Teterboro crash pilot not qualified

Of the Teterboro crash, a report in Flying Magazine said, “The first officer (SIC) was the flying pilot on the day of the accident, with the captain monitoring, despite company operations specs that clearly stated the SIC should not be handling any of the flying duties.”

It continued, “Reading the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) transcript released by the NTSB detailed the final 30 minutes of the flight from Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to TEB that could at best be described as confusing, with a captain pushing the SIC along when that pilot was clearly not prepared to fly the Learjet in the busy New York airspace.”

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The aircraft, registered to A&C Big Sky Aviation LLC and operated by Trans-Pacific Air Charter LLC, and was on a Part 135 certificate, so it was available for the on-demand charter market and could also have been used to fulfill jet card flights, depending on the provider’s sourcing standards. Plane & Pilot reported, “In the NTSB report, the agency noted Trans-Pacific Air Charter, the company that the pilot and co-pilot worked for, failed to adequately monitor its operations for safety.”

Captain’s record was incomplete

Pilots who had previously worked with the captain of the flight told the NTSB they didn’t think he should have been promoted to the left seat. They also criticized his passivity in the cockpit and failure to use checklists.

Other troubling aspects included his failure to report a driver’s license suspension and a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, including failed check rides.

Read: NTSB Full Report on the crash of Learjet 35A, N452DA at Teterboro, NJ

The news underscores our previous reporting – and advice – find out who your pilots are and ask for background information before you fly. It’s something any reputable broker or operator of on-demand charter flights and jet cards should gladly provide you.

European charter association raises concerns

In an email sent to its members concerning Sala’s fatal flight, obtained by Private Jet Card Comparisons, BACA wrote, “The final flight of the series ended in the tragic loss of the lives of Mr. Sala and pilot David Ibbotson when the Piper Malibu crashed in the English Channel.

“The incident led to the written admission by the father of the footballer’s transfer agent, in a response to Sky News, that he had arranged and paid for a number of flights…None of the aircraft appear to be on charter approvals in any territory and therefore we have raised our significant concerns with the CAA, EASA and the AAIB.”

Urging investigation of dry leases

We have also urged the CAA to look into day leases of aircraft, as these are becoming increasingly commonplace in our industry.  Whilst they can be legal, it is essential that the traveling public understands the higher levels of risk and lower levels of safety these flights have compared to Commercial Air Transport. It is also vital that passengers realize the full legal liabilities of becoming the ‘aircraft operator’ during the duration of the lease.”

Read: After the death of Sala, here are the questions you should ask about your private jet charter pilots

Questionable flights

The full letter – worth reading – from BACA chairman Nick Weston appears below:

Dear Member,

Concerns around the flights undertaken in the transfer of Emiliano Sala from FC Nantes to Cardiff City FC

As you may have seen yesterday, your Association was featured extensively in the news media regarding the concerns we have raised to the CAA, EASA and the AAIB regarding the series of flights which took place during the transfer of the footballer Emiliano Sala from FC Nantes to Cardiff City FC in December 2018 and January 2019. The final flight of the series ended in the loss of the lives of Mr. Sala and pilot David Ibbotson, when the Piper Malibu, N264DB crashed in the English Channel on a flight from Nantes to Cardiff.

The tragic circumstances regarding the sad loss of lives led to the written admission by the father of the footballer’s transfer agent, Willie McKay, in a response to Sky News on the 19th February 2019, that he had arranged and paid for a number of flights.

From the written admission, we found them to be:

05DEC18 G-KARE PC12 Stapleford-Nantes 11:02-12:34 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passengers: Neil Warnock, Kevin Blackwell, Mark McKay and Willie McKay Operator: www.flexifly.co.uk

05DEC18 G-KARE PC12 Nantes-Cardiff 21:20-22:51 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passengers: Neil Warnock, Kevin Blackwell, Mark McKay and Willie McKay Operator: www.flexifly.co.uk

08JAN19 N531EA EA50 Cardiff-Nantes 16:14-17:09 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passengers: Neil Warnock, Mark McKay, Willie McKay and Callum Davies Operator: https://www.channeljets.com/

09JAN19 N531EA EA50 Nantes-Cardiff 09:35-10:40 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passengers: Neil Warnock, Mark McKay, Willie McKay and Callum Davies Operator: https://www.channeljets.com/ 14JAN19 N843TE EA50 Paris Le Bourget-Nantes 12:13-13:05 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passenger: Mr N’Diaye Operator: https://www.channeljets.com/

14JAN19 N843TE EA50 Nantes -Cardiff 13:34-14:39 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passengers: Mr N’Diaye and Mr Sala Operator: https://www.channeljets.com/

14JAN19 N843TE EA50 Cardiff-Nantes 18:23-19:23 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passengers: Mr N’Diaye and Mr Sala Operator: https://www.channeljets.com/

14JAN19 N843TE EA50 Nantes-Paris Le Bourget 19:38-20:32 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passenger: Mr N’Diaye Operator: https://www.channeljets.com/

18JAN19 N531EA EA50 Nantes-Cardiff 08:15-09:16 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passenger: Mr Sala Operator: https://www.channeljets.com/

18JAN19 N14EF P46T Cardiff-Paris Le Bourget 16:11-17:46 Flight Plan: G – General Aviation Passenger: Mr N’Diaye Operator: US Trustee Ownership, Altaclara Aviation Inc and Altaclara Aviation Ltd.

19JAN19 N264DB P46T Cardiff – Nantes 11:30-??. No IFR Flight Plan filed. Passenger: Mr Sala

21JAN19 N264DB P46T Nantes – Cardiff. Flight did not arrive. No IFR Flight Plan filed. Passenger: Mr Sala

Given that the flights all took place with a Flight Type of General Aviation; that none of the aircraft were on Air Operator Certificates or Part 135 Approvals, that the large proportion were operated on American registered aircraft and that the agent had stated he paid for the flights, we began to look into the background of each one.

That led to the concerns which we raised to the CAA, EASA and the AAIB on 27th February 2019. In light of the fact that none of the aircraft are operating on Commercial Air Transport certificates, we have asked that the CAA fully investigate the safety and commercial background to all of these flights, to ensure that no illegal charters took place.

There could well be plausible explanations for how each flight was arranged, however the regulations, particularly those of aircraft registered with the US FAA, are very clear and unambiguous on the requirements of cost-sharing and demonstration flights, which must be fully complied with.

Furthermore, we have asked the CAA to look in more depth into day leases of aircraft that appear to be becoming more and more prevalent in the industry. Whilst they can be legal, it is imperative that the travelling public has a full understanding of the higher levels of risk and lower levels of safety these flights have, when compared to Commercial Air Transport and, perhaps more importantly, that they have a complete and transparent understanding of the full legal liabilities of assuming the role of “aircraft operator” during the duration of the lease, together with the financial risks and exposure that gives to the individuals leasing the aircraft.

We continue to work with the CAA and the AAIB on our concerns and welcome any views that our members may have.

Yours sincerely

Nick Weston Chairman

BACA – The Air Charter Association

Final Thoughts

Industry insiders I’ve spoken with believe a driving factor in dangerous flying includes not only the pilot shortage but consumer thirst to save money.

The challenge is two-fold: 

Saving money through workaround lease agreements are often designed to put you aboard aircraft with pilots who aren’t supposed to be offering commercial charter flights.

At the same time, simply meeting minimum government standards shouldn’t be good enough when chartering on-demand or buying into a jet card program.

It may feel good to think you are getting a deal because you got the same year Learjet 35a, Falcon 2000 or Citation X from this broker or card company for X thousand dollars less. The same with non-traditional agreements for your on-demand charter, such as Dry Leases.

Without doing homework about the operator’s standards and the experience and history of pilots who will be flying you, there’s a chance you are simply getting what you paid for.

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About the Author Doug Gollan

I am Founder and Editor of Private Jet Card Comparisons, the only independent buyer's guide to jet card membership programs, and DG Amazing Experiences, a weekly luxury travel e-newsletter for private jet owners. I am also a contributor to Forbes.com
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