Confirmed - HP-762 Was Operating as a "Pirate" Air Taxi
Friday, January 04 2008 @ 11:48 PM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - This morning I visited the offices of Panama's Civil Aeronautical Authority (AAC) to ask them specifically about HP-762 and other private aircraft in general being used for commercial purposes illegally. The first question I had - "Was HP-762 a private or commercial aircraft." The answer surprised me. Anyone can spot a properly registered Panamanian commercial aircraft just by looking at it - the tail number will start with "HP" (indicating a Panamanian registration), there will be probably three for four numbers, and then commercial aircraft have two or three letters afixed to the end of the tail number. HP-762 was without a doubt a private, noncommercial aircraft that should not have been flying for hire under any circumstances. The aircraft is owned by "AEROSERVICIOS MATTHEWS, S.A." and if that company and the aircraft were properly registered and certified by the AAC then the letters "ASM" (or something similar) would be affixed to the end of the tail number, making it HP-762ASM or something like that. All of Copa's planes end in "CMP" for example. (more)
What Does The AAC Consider To Be Commercial Flying: Basically, any time money changes hands, or if there is a potential for money to exchange hands. Allow me to explain. Obviously, air transportation (like an air taxi service) and taking passengers from point A to point B for a fee is a commercial service. But what about other kinds of flying for money? What if you pay someone to fly you around to look for real estate, and take off and land at the same airfield? (Commercial.) What about aerial photography - paying someone to fly you around so you can take a picture of your new farm? (Commercial activity.) Any time you are paying a private aircraft owner or operator to fly you for a fee or pay, then it's commercial activity and that aircraft, according to Panamanian laws, must be registered as a commercial aircraft, and inspected according to the applicable laws. Aircraft owners and pilots who do otherwise are, quite simply, breaking the law.
The Hunt for Grey Area: OK, got it. If I pay money then it's commercial activity. But then I started asking the hypothetical questions, putting myself in the place of private aircraft owners. What if, for example, I am "Joe Big Bucks" who is developing my own real estate development up in Lomas de las Nalgas. And, of course, I have a private pilots license and I own my own plane. Let's say for example some potential investors come down to Panama, and they want to look at the property I am offering. If they invest with me I stand to make a good sum of money, and because I think they are good potential clients I offer to pick them up at Albrook and fly them up to see the development. And in my hypothetical example that I presented to the AAC, what if they never pay me a dime for the flight, they don't end up buying property, they just go back to Panama City and I never see them again. Private or commercial? According to the AAC - Commercial. There is a possibility those potential investors could buy your property, and if and when that happens they would be paying for the plane ride. And what matters even more, they are members of the public who are flying in your private plane to look into a potential investment. It's not private flying at that point.
Private Means Private - Period: The AAC does not care if you want to fly friends and family up to Boquete to play a round of golf. Then, take them to Bocas del Toro for a lobster lunch. The point is that you are going about your life as a private citizen, and you are not renting out your aircraft for hire in any way. The "spirit and intent" of the AAC is to keep private flying and commercial flying completely separate. And, the reality is that its hard or practically impossible for them to do it on the ground. They have done "operations" to detect this kind of illegal commercial flying and they know it's going on. The operators and pilots will take your money (in cash) but don't give receipts. They look for ways to create "plausible deniability." And when I asked how many private plane owners have been smacked with that $50,000 fine? None.
Getting "Legal" Is Not That Hard: According to a couple of aircraft mechanics I talked to today, there is basically no difference in the requirements for private or commercial aircraft maintenance. The difference is that commercial operations have to simply keep better books, and the AAC inspectors will come around more often to inspect those books to make sure required maintenance is being carried out. All of the additional requirements are in place to enhance public safety. If you want to fudge the books, skip some inspections, and cut corners as a private aircraft owner then go ahead and be an idiot - because the only life you are risking is your own. But as soon as you put paying customers in the seats then you are taking on a much greater responsibility - and the AAC wants to make sure you are taking care of your equipment and have all of the training and certifications necessary.
These Are Rules For Panama: Notice the aircraft registration (tail) number of the aircraft in the above photo - YV261T. The "YV" means it's an aircraft registered in Venezuela. But every country establishes their own rules and regulations regarding civil aircraft registration numbers, and as long as they conform to international norms and agreements then they can do basically whatever they want within those norms. For example, they don't use the numbers "1" and "0" to avoid confusion with the letters "L" and "O". And in the example above, I don't know if Venezuela follows the same norms as Panama regarding a letter affixed to the end of the number to designate a commercial aircraft. Because it's from Venezuela, this aircraft might be private, and the rules and norms in this article only apply to aircraft registered in Panama with an "HP" tail number.
Why Are Millionaires Dumb? If you've got the money to own your own plane, why not spend the extra $400 (or whatever it is) to have your plane registered and inspected as a legally established air transportation company. And, why not make the plane legal to do what you are (actually) doing - which is commercial flying? The guys at the AAC are basically shaking their heads in disbelief. In short, they don't get it. Sure, there is additional paperwork and inspections, but it's not that hard to do, and it's certainly far from impossible. On the other hand, in the case of HP-762 for example, if the AAC Investigatory Commission reaches the conclusion the aircraft was flying illegally as a commercial flight, taking Michael Klein and the others from the Islas Secas to Volcan for pay, then there is little to no chance that the aircraft owner will receive a dime of insurance money for the lost aircraft.
It's Happened Before: The same owner had another incident in David during the summer of last year. In that crash the aircraft was a private aircraft and not legally registered as a commercial aircraft. They basically crashed upon landing at David. No one was killed or injured but the plane was totaled. And, in that incident there were also paying customers aboard a private aircraft.
Exposing Yourself to Tremendous Risk: Owners of private aircraft in Panama who are doing this are exposing themselves to tremendous potential legal risk when something eventually goes wrong. I'm sure the Klein family lawyers are going to end up with everything the owners of HP-762 ever thought about buying, right down to their toothbrush and a half a roll of dental floss. Look at it this way - the millionaire owns the plane and has some money, but he's flying around mega-millionaires who have a lot more money. You would think that between the two of them they would figure out that it's worth the investment to spend the extra money to either have your plane registered as a commercial aircraft (on one hand) or to make sure you're flying on a properly registered and inspected aircraft (on the other hand.) And again, it's a lawyers' buffet when something goes wrong.
About The Pilot: The pilot of HP-762 was Edwin Lasso. He had more than 950 total flight hours. He had a private pilot's license, a commercial pilot's license, was certified for instrument flying (IFR), and was also an instructor pilot. I spent some time at a flight school today and my earlier estimate regarding flight hours required to get qualified was way off. You only need about 50 hours to get a private VFR pilot's license. Edwin Lasso, despite his young age (21 years old), was a relatively well trained and experienced pilot. But according to one source he was unfamiliar with the area around Volcan Baru and had landed at his destination airfield only once before.
The AAC Formed Their Investigation Board Today: When I was in the offices of the AAC, they informed me that the Director of the AAC would be signing a resolution today to establish a special investigatory commission to look into the crash of HP-762. When I got back to the office this afternoon the following resolution, signed today, was waiting for me in the inbox:
- AAC Forms Team to Investigate the Crash of HP-762
- Panama's Civil Aeronautical Authority (AAC) empaneled yesterday a special Investigatory Board charged with determining the causes of the accident of the aircraft with tail number HP-762.
- This commission will be required to render a preliminary report within 15 working days (on or before 25 January 2008.)
- HP-762 crashed on 23 December 2007 in the Province of Chiriquí resulting the loss of three lives.
- The Investigatory Committee will consist of:
- Eunides Pérez - From the AAC Unit of Accident Investigation and Prevention. Mr. Pérez will preside over the commission and direct their efforts.
- Miguel Segovia - Independent Pilot;
- Fabio Falco - Independent Pilot;
- Silvio Tulipano - Of the AAC Direction of Aerial Security and Airworthiness;
- Carlos Staff - Aviation Medicine and Human Factors;
- Justo Campo - From the AAC Unit of Accident Investigation and Prevention;
- Luis Martin Charles - Air Traffic Controller.
- Eunides Pérez - From the AAC Unit of Accident Investigation and Prevention. Mr. Pérez will preside over the commission and direct their efforts.
- The investigation to be carried out by this group of professionals conforms to the parameters established in Law Nº 21 of 29 of January of 2003 and the Manual of Procedures of the Unit of Prevention and the Investigation of Accidents of the Civil Aeronautical Authority of the Republic of Panama.
- The investigation of aircraft accidents and incidents occurring within Panamanian territory is a specific and privative function of the AAC with the intention of determining its probable causes.
- It should be emphasized that the investigation of any incident or accident carried out by the AAC is technical in nature, and should not damage any investigation carried out by other authorities.
- The investigation will be carried out in accordance with accordance with national regulations and the norms of international civil aviation, specifically those contained in Annex 13 of the Chicago Agreement.
Who Owned HP-762: According to the public registry, HP-762 is owned by:
- AEROSERVICIOS MATTHEWS, S.A.
- No. de Ficha: 395054
- No. Documento: 198789
- Nombre de la Sociedad: AERO SERVICIOS MATTHEWS, S.A.
Tomo: 0 Folio: 0 Asiento: 0
- Fecha de Registro: 06-02-2001
- Status: VIGENTE
- No. de Escritura: 813
- Fecha de Escritura: 01-02-2001
- Notaria: 45 NOTARIA DUODECIMA DEL CIRCUITO
- Provincia Notaria: PANAMA
- Duración: PERPETUA
- Domicilio: BOCAS DEL TORO
- Status de la Prenda: (DEF-DEFINITIVA, PRE-PRELIMINAR)
- Datos de 1a. Tasa Única
- Boleta: 0 Fecha de Pago: 00-00-0000
- Agente Residente: RAUL HOULSTAN
- Datos del Diario
- Tomo: 2001 Asiento: 12632
- Datos de Microfilmación
- Rollo: 0 Imagen: 0
- Moneda: ACCIONES SIN VALOR NOMINAL.
- Monto de Capital: 0.00
- Capital: EL CAPITAL SOCIAL ESTARA REPRESENTADO POR QUINIENTAS ACCIONES COMUNES SIN VALOR NOMINAL. LOS CERTIFICADOS DE ACCIONES PODRAN SER EMITIDOS EN FORMA NOMINATIVA O AL PORTADOR.
- Representante Legal: EL PRESIDENTE Y EN SU AUSENCIA EL TESORERO.
- Título del Dignatario Nombre del Dignatario:
PRESIDENTE MARVIN MATTHEWS, VICE-PRESIDENTE ERNESTO MATTHEWS, TESORERO BRIGIDA WILLIAMS, SECRETARIO ERNESTO MATTHEWS
- Nombre de los Directores: MARVIN MATTHEWS, ERNESTO MATTHEWS, BRIGIDA WILLIAMS
- Nombre de los Suscriptores: MARVIN MATTHEWS, ERNESTO MATTHEWS, BRIGIDA WILLIAMS
Spanish Version: The original Spanish version of the AAC resolution signed to establish the investigatory committee follows below:
- Conforman Junta de Investigación del accidente de la aeronave HP-762
- La Autoridad Aeronáutica Civil (AAC) conformó ayer la Junta de Investigación encargada de precisar las causas del accidente de la aeronave con matrícula HP-762.
- Esta comisión rendirá un informe preliminar en un plazo de 15 días hábiles. El pasado 23 de diciembre de 2007 se accidentó dicha aeronave en la provincia de Chiriquí, teniendo como resultado la pérdida de tres vidas humanas.
- Esta Junta de Investigación estará conformada por: Eunides Pérez, de la Unidad de Investigación y Prevención de Accidentes, quien la presidirá el grupo; Miguel Segovia, Piloto Aviador Independiente; Fabio Falco, Piloto Aviador Independiente; Silvio Tulipano, de la Dirección de Seguridad Aérea y Aeronavegabilidad; Carlos Staff, Medicina Aeronáutica y Factores Humanos; Justo Campo, de la Unidad de Investigación y Prevención de Accidentes y Luis Martin Charles, Controlador de Tránsito Aéreo.
- Las investigaciones que realice este grupo de profesionales estarán ajustadas a los parámetros de la Ley Nº 21 de 29 de enero de 2003 y al Manual de Procedimientos de la Unidad de Prevención e Investigación de Accidentes de la Autoridad Aeronáutica Civil de la República de Panamá.
- Es función específica y privativa de la AAC investigar los accidentes e incidentes de aviación ocurridos dentro del territorio panameño con el objeto de determinar sus causas probables.
- Cabe destacar que la investigación de cualquier incidente o accidente que lleve a cabo la AAC es de naturaleza técnica, sin perjuicio de cualquier investigación que realicen otras autoridades. Las pesquisas se desarrollan de conformidad con los reglamentos nacionales y las normas de aviación civil internacional, específicamente las contenidas en el Anexo 13 del Convenio de Chicago.
My Crystal Ball Says: That the AAC will be doing their job. They will investigate this crash and write a report. Then, the AAC will use this incident to crack down on someone's ass. They will issue that $50,000 fine, take away licenses, suspend permissions to operate, and generally make some headlines. And I suspect that when they finally get around to doing it, they will pick on some rich gringo to make an example of. Once that happens then everyone else will line up, single file, to get their paperwork straight and to register their aircraft and flight operations, to basically "get legal." Yeah, I know. "This is Panama." But Panama is slowly evolving into something different and every day I run into these exact kinds of things, where it's always been done one way and now it's going to be done another (better) way. Unfortunately, someone had to die before the alarm buzzers went off. As usual.