FAA plans $1m fine against Weathervane Aviation Services for alleged illegal charter flights

Mike Stones

The FAA is proposing a $1,001,000 fine against Massachusetts company Weathervane Aviation Services for allegedly conducting about 1,400 illegal charter flights.

Weathervane, based in Westport, conducted the flights between May 9th 2016 and August 31st 2018 in two, twin-engine Cessna 402C airplanes between New Bedford Regional Airport and Nantucket Memorial Airport, alleges the FAA. The flights were illegal because Weathervane lacked a required air-carrier certificate and used unqualified pilots, according to the FAA.

All but 52 flights occurred after the FAA had notified Weathervane President Richard Araujo that he required an air-carrier certificate to conduct the operations, said the administration. About 455 of the flights occurred after the FAA alerted Araujo that it was investigating his company for possible illegal operations, it was claimed.

Possible illegal operations

The FAA further alleges Weathervane lacked an FAA-approved pilot-training programme and procedures and policies manual. Also, the company used pilots who had not passed required written, oral, and flight checks and instrument proficiency checks, claims the agency. Weathervane’s operations were “careless or reckless, so as to endanger the life or property of another” it alleged .

Weathervane has 30 days after receiving the FAA’s enforcement letter to respond to the agency. Corporate Jet Investor was unable to contact the company to respond to the FAA allegations.

Responding to a request from CJI for information about the scale of the problem of illegal charter, an FAA spokeswoman highlighted a section of the agency’s website headed Safe Charter Operations. “Illegal air charter operations pose a serious safety hazard to the traveling public,” according to the website. “The FAA works aggressively to identify and shut down rogue operators and to help passengers ensure the company they hire is legitimate.”

‘Shut down rogue operators’

The FAA said it had taken a number of actions to ensure FAA aviation inspectors are equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to investigate illegal charter operations. It had formed a Special Emphasis Investigations Team to investigate complex cases and partners with the National Air Transportation Association’s (NATA’s) Air Charter Safety Foundation to identify possible illegal operations. It also continues to collaborate with industry trade associations to educate pilots and operators to ensure they understand all of the rules that apply to charter operations.

Meanwhile, in December 2020, a global group of leading business aviation organisations launched a coordinated effort to combat illegal on-demand charter flights in the sector. Called the Air Charter Safety Alliance, the group will raise awareness among potential customers, charter brokers, ministries of transport and national aviation authorities regarding the use of unauthorised aircraft operators for on-demand flights.

Don’t miss this deep dive into the implications for lease agreements of FAA guidelines defining private and common carriage from Derek Bloom, partner, Atlantic Aviation Legal Services, LLC.

The problem of illegal charter will be probed in the next edition of  Corporate Jet Investor Quarterly. Order your copy here.

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