Emiliano Sala: Neither pilot nor plane had the correct licensing to operate commercially

The UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has published its final report into the aircraft crash in which footballer, Emiliano Sala and the pilot, David Ibbotson, lost their lives. It found that neither Ibbotson nor the Piper Malibu, N264DB, held the correct licensing to operate on a commercial basis. It also said that Sala would have been “deeply unconscious” due to carbon monoxide poisoning at the point of impact. The report contains numerous safety recommendations concerning: the carriage of carbon monoxide (CO) detectors; additional in-service inspections of exhaust systems; and the maintenance of flight crew licensing records.


Crispin Orr, chief inspector of air accidents at the AAIB, said: “This was a tragic accident with fatal consequences. As we publish our final report today, our thoughts are with the families of Mr Sala and Mr Ibbotson. Today we have made important safety recommendations which, if fully implemented, would significantly reduce the risk of a recurrence.”


Orr continued, saying that whilst routine maintenance is vital, it cannot eliminate the risk of carbon monoxide leaks completely. Equipping aircraft with devices that provide warnings of the presence of this odourless, colourless and lethal gas, would enable pilots to take potentially lifesaving action. Therefore, the AAIB is calling for the regulators to make it mandatory for piston-engine aircraft, such as the one Piper Malibu involved in the accident, to carry an active CO warning device.


“The chartering of aircraft that are not licensed for commercial transport – so called ‘grey charters’ – is putting lives at risk” said Orr. “We welcome the Civil Aviation Authority’s efforts to stop this practice through their ‘Legal to Fly’ campaign and other interventions.”


Industry associations have expressed regret but little surprise at the focus upon illegal charter within the report. The European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), British Business & General Aviation Association (BBGA) and the Air Charter Association (ACA) have collectively said they will intensify their efforts to fight against the issue of illegal charter flights.


“This practice threatens passenger safety and gives legitimate providers a bad name, while undermining their financial viability.

  • We will organise a series of dedicated workshops across Europe for operators, brokers and authorities to accelerate knowledge and best-practice sharing.
  • We will roll-out new tools to empower passengers and the business aviation community to look up charter operators, access factsheets, and report questionable operations.


“The focus needs to shift to establishing clarity on what defines a private operation and a commercial operation. Compounding the concern, is a lack of clarity on the definition of an illegal charter, but also on who has what responsibility when operating or booking flights,” they said in a joint statement.