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MEBAA (Middle East & North Africa Business Aviation Association)
MEBAA (Middle East & North Africa Business Aviation Association)
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Call for crackdown on illegal flights
BACA and Cardiff City Football Club are determined to make sure that instances of illegal charter are curtailed. They urge clear recommendations for reform along with strong punishments for anyone involved.
BACA CEO Dave Edwards joins with Cardiff City football club in calling for urgent action to crack down on illegal flights.

Cardiff City Football Club has joined forces with BACA - The Air Charter Association to call for urgent action on illegal flights following the tragic Piper PA-46 Malibu crash that resulted in the deaths of footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch published a preliminary report on 25 February, which identified that the pilot of the PA-46 was not licensed to fly fee-paying passengers and the aircraft itself was not registered to undertake commercial flights.

Records have since shown that Ibbotson was also not licensed to fly at night. Former football agent Willie McKay, operating without a football agent's licence, has confirmed that he had paid for the flight. This information has prompted widespread calls for action by the air charter and football industries, with the backing of senior MPs.

Cardiff City has called on football's governing bodies to ensure clubs and players never again use illegal flights. “We wholeheartedly back BACA - The Air Charter Association in its efforts to secure a review of illegal flights. Our club has been shocked by the sheer scale of the problem in the sporting world, and more broadly,” says a Cardiff City FC spokesperson. “The club has a robust flight policy, but we are putting in place additional processes to protect players and staff. We will be insisting that intermediaries book only commercial licensed air carriers when handling player transfers. We are hopeful that other clubs will take similar positions. Meaningful progress on this issue, in the form of accountability and protections, would be one positive outcome from what is a terrible tragedy for everyone who knew Emiliano and for the football world as a whole.”

BACA - The Air Charter Association is calling on the government to review the level of criminal liability and enforcement options available to authorities, including larger fines and prison time for pilots and individuals who arrange and undertake illegal flights. CEO Dave Edwards adds: “This must be a watershed moment. We have long argued that illegal flights are harming the legal air charter industry and putting the lives of the travelling public at risk. It has become so prevalent that there is circumstantial evidence to suggest illegal flights are routinely happening frequently throughout the country.

“In the case of the circumstances surrounding the Piper PA-46 Malibu crash, we believe there is enough evidence available to authorities to take strong action against those involved in this flight and to propose significant recommendations for reform. We desperately need stronger punishments to be available and, most importantly, better enforcement.

“If you are a traveller on a private charter flight and you're concerned about whether it is legal, ask to see a copy of the commercial licence of the aircraft, the air operator's certificate. If it doesn't have one, ask why not.”

Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty says: “I think, given what has emerged since the tragic crash in January, there is an urgent need to review just how prevalent an issue grey charter is. It seems on the surface to be a wild west industry that is putting lives at risk every single day. Whilst we must allow the specific investigations into what happened in this tragedy the space to continue, I would also echo the calls of BACA - The Air Charter Association and Cardiff City FC for better enforcement and better awareness of illegal flights. We need to make sure this is never allowed to happen again.”

Grey charter flights broadly describe a situation where private aircraft operators and owners avoid the cost of obtaining a commercial operator's license by having the passengers onboard contribute to the cost of the flight. McKay, the agent, has stated that he paid for the Piper PA46 Malibu flight. Paying for the flight on that non-commercial aircraft would make it neither a cost-sharing or grey charter flight.

Since the crash, BACA - The Air Charter Association has received reports of illegal flights happening in the UK at a rate of almost one per day. The chair of the Transport Select Committee Lilian Greenwood MP has confirmed she will be raising the matter directly with the CAA, and as the aircraft was registered in the US, the FAA is also investigating.

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