The Air Charter Association has been campaigning to raise awareness of and for legislation changes to combat illegal charter flights.
On Jan. 21, 2019, Premiership footballer Emiliano Sala and his pilot died when the Piper PA-46 Malibu crashed into the English Channel. The investigation of the crash discovered Sala had high levels of carbon monoxide exposure, which had leaked into the aircraft, possibly impairing the judgment of the pilot. It was found the pilot was not licensed to fly at the time of the crash, or qualified to fly at night.
The investigation into the crash discovered the pilot had undergone training between 2012 and 2014 but dropped out before it was completed and his private pilot license did not permit him to carry passengers for profit. His type rating for the Piper Malibu had expired months before the crash.Footballer Emiliano Sala
The plane had encountered issues on the first flight, which the pilot was aware of. He brought the plane to a mechanic to look over but the language barrier made the transaction difficult. The pilot had made the person managing the aircraft aware of some of the issues, who recommended he bring it to an engineer, but there was no evidence it was ever examined by an engineer before the accident flight.
The organizer of the illegal charter flight was found guilty on Oct. 28, 2021, of endangering the safety of an aircraft. He also admitted to a charge of trying to arrange a flight for a passenger without proper authorization or permission, according to the BBC. The judge said he had intentionally breached the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations for profit and had endangered the lives of both the pilot and passenger on the two flights, the return flight resulting in the crash that killed them.Plane before crashThe BBC reported Thursday that Cardiff City tried to take out a £20 million insurance on Sala the day after he was killed in the crash, according to papers filed to the High Court. Insurance brokers said the club had not gotten cover before his plane went down. Cardiff City bosses were seeking damages for over £10 million from insurance brokers after the footballer's death. The BBC said the club was unable to claim the money they paid Sala in the trade, which took place shortly before the crash, when insurers refused to pay it out. Cardiff City was suing insurance broker Miller Insurance LLP, claiming it owed the club over £10m in a High Court bid. The club said the firm had failed to inform them that players were not covered if they were not informed of new signings, like the recently signed Sala, before the crash. The BBC reported that the High Court was told that Cardiff City contacted insurers about Sala they morning after his death, seeking £20m coverage for Sala in an email. The latest legal battle surrounding Sala's death is ongoing. This latest courtroom escapade comes after the arrest of the illegal charter operator was sentenced for his role in the accident.Illegal charters are any unlicensed aircraft charter operation, where the operator does not have an Air Operator Certificate and is operating a private aircraft that the operator, owner and/or pilot are not legally allowed to accept payment for flying. The practice is not very common but when they occur, can prove to be dangerous or even deadly.Fully legal operations will be licensed and regulated, which takes large amounts of time and financial resources to minimize the risk of each flight. Commercial flights and for-profit flights are heavily regulated and subject to rigorous safety checks and oversight by national authorities. Legal operations must adhere to strict regulations and standards for aircraft maintenance, flight operations, ground operations, increased insurance, crew experience and training. While tedious, the steps involved in running a legal operation ensure and protect the safety of passengers and crew.
In memory of the accident, the ACA will continue efforts to widen awareness and reduce illegal charter activity. Jan. 21 is designated "Fly Legal Day" and the ACA is asking industry members to unite in spreading the word on the issue of this illicit practice to prevent future tragedy.
The ACA asks members of the industry and aviation enthusiasts to promote "Fly Legal Day" with hashtags like #flylegalday and #theaca in posts.
Learn more about illegal charter flights here.