A British private pilot was convicted this week of operating an illegal charter flight, and a flight that was unsafe, following a trial in Manchester, England.
Robert Murgatroyd commenced a flight in a Piper Cherokee from Barton Aerodrome, near Manchester, to the Isle of Barra, Scotland, on Sept. 9, 2017. He had taken payment of £500 from each of his three passengers, who were bird watchers hoping to see the American Redstart, which had not been seen for 30 years.
He was found to have been making a profit from the flight, rather than it being a cost-sharing flight as currently permitted under EASA regulations. Thus he should have held a commercial license and the aircraft should have been included on an air operator certificate (AOC).
After departure in poor weather from a wet runway at the small general aviation airfield, the aircraft struggled to get airborne and crashed shortly afterward close to a major highway. The pilot suffered a broken nose, while the passengers also suffered minor injuries.
The CAA and Greater Manchester Police mounted a criminal investigation, separate from the UK AAIB's accident inquiry. Investigators found that the Cherokee was 426 pounds over the mtow of 2,150 pounds.
The jury found Murgatroyd guilty on all seven counts of the charges, which included recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft and the occupants; conducting a public transport flight without an AOC; acting as a pilot without holding an appropriate license; and flying outside the flight manual limitations. The judge set sentencing for March 15.
This was a very serious incident that could have ended with fatalities…We hope his convictions will deter other pilots from ignoring the law for personal profit,” said Alison Slater, head of the UK CAA's Investigation and Enforcement Team.
SPOTLIGHT ON CHARTER
The Air Charter Association (BACA) said it is “pleased to note the verdicts of the jury” in the case, given that Murgatroyd had organized the illegal charter. It noted that the case is “symptomatic of a wider problem caused by the blurring of the line between commercial and private aircraft operations. The current regulatory regime does not adequately protect the boundary and has left members of the public exposed to risks of which they are largely unaware.”