Illegal air taxis: Six Channel Island planes being monitored
AT least six aircraft suspected of being used for illegal ‘taxi’ flights in and out of the Channel Islands are being closely monitored by aviation authorities, the director of civil aviation has revealed.
Non-commercial pilots are today being warned that they could be fined thousands of pounds if they are caught carrying passengers for a profit. Under the terms of their licence they can only receive payments to cover the cost of the flight.
It is understood that some Islanders may be paying more than the price of fuel and other fees to amateur pilots – a practice known as a ‘grey charter’. The unlicensed service has been likened to Jersey Lifts – an illegal taxi service where rides are organised through Facebook in exchange for cash.
Grey charters have come under the spotlight following the death of Premier League footballer Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson in a crash off the coast of Alderney in January.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch is examining whether Mr Ibbotson was being paid, which would be in contravention of his licence.
Dominic Lazarus, who took over as the head of the Channel Island’s CAA last year, has also appealed to Islanders to make themselves aware of aviation regulations and the risk they could be exposing themselves to if they choose to fly with operators who do not adhere to them.
‘I have been trying to terminate these illegal charters since last year and it has been brought to the fore because of the Emiliano Sala incident and that has put the spotlight on the islands,’ Mr Lazarus said.
‘It is something that is prevalent in the Island because we are limited in our air services – it has flourished. You cannot get from Alderney to Jersey direct, you have to go via Guernsey on Aurigny.
‘But people have got to be aware that if you are a passenger offered to go in an aeroplane that can take you from A to B and you cannot get there with a commercial operator, you have got to be very careful who you are flying with. They may not have appropriate insurance, you have no oversight of their certification or the experience they have and one may be very happy to jump in a small aircraft unaware that it may be an illegal operation.’
Mr Lazarus, who flew commercially for over a decade, said suspicions were generally raised when non-commercial aircraft were being operated extremely regularly. He added that a large number of different aircraft were currently being monitored – some extremely closely.
But he made it clear that it was perfectly legal to operate cost-sharing flights where a private pilot could carry up to three passengers, each sharing the costs by 25%.
‘There are probably six or seven aircraft we are monitoring very closely at the moment. If we think there might be some illegal activity then we have the ability to inspect them on arrival and if we find out there have been some breaches in aviation law then we can notify the police,’ he said.
‘As soon as you [private pilot] make a profit out of a flight or any economic gain – it does not have to be monetary – this is unacceptable.
‘The public have got to be aware that they are taking a risk if they take part in these illegal operations – it is fraught with danger. And to the pilots who are doing it, be very careful because you are not certified, it is illegal and if you are caught, we will enforce the law. The punishment could be thousands of pounds worth of fines.’
Mr Lazarus added that the non-profit regulations extended to non-commercial pilots transporting animals to Jersey.
Meanwhile, Lee McConnell, corporate and general aviation development manager for Ports of Jersey, confirmed that he had received a number of complaints regarding illegal grey-charter flights.
‘The best way to deal with the problem of grey charters is for law-abiding passengers, operators, pilots and regulatory bodies to do all they can to highlight and marginalise those who abuse the rules and break the law,’ he said.
‘However, dishonest private owners are not solely responsible for grey-charter flights. Genuine ignorance of aviation regulation is widespread, and more needs to be done to educate owners, financiers, pilots and the industry in general to prevent incidents.’
According to the British Air Charter Association, anyone chartering aircraft should ask the operator if the aircraft is licensed, what jurisdiction the aircraft is registered under, if the pilot or the aircraft is insured and passengers should also request a copy of the operator’s air operating certificate.