By David Learmount in London

Corporate charter carrier allowed unsupervised operations by other airlines under FAR Part 135 umbrella

Business charter operator American Flight Group (AFG) has been grounded by the US Federal Aviation Administration for abusing its operator's licence. And in a related ruling, the FAA has fined air ambulance operator Medway Air Ambulance (MAA) $1 million for carrying out flights for hire or reward without the appropriate licence.

The agency's administrator, Marion Blakey, says: "These cases send a strong message that the FAA strictly enforces its safety regulations and will take action in situations where an air carrier is engaged in the franchising or rental of its air carrier certificate."

Grounded carrier AFG says that it has now ceased trading. The Annapolis, Maryland-based operator was licensed for operations under FAR Part 135, says the FAA, and for a monthly fee the carrier allowed other operators to fly services under the umbrella of its certification.

If AFG had supervised all aspects of the operation by those carriers, and if they were operating types for which AFG was licensed, that would have been allowable. But the FAA says AFG did not exercise operational control of the carriers concerned, and in one case an aircraft used was not a type for which AFG was licensed.

The agency identified a series of 85 specific flights that were carried out autonomously by air ambulance operator MAA, which was relying on the AFG certification.

AFG also sold apparent certification cover to four other carriers - Aero National, Alton, M&N Aviation and Trans Caribbean Airways. Trans Caribbean's licence to operate had been suspended by the FAA, but AFG had neglected to check this.

The FAA admits that malpractice among Part 135 operators has been widespread, and the agency has been criticised by the US National Transportation Safety Board for having lost its grip on the sector.

The FAA says its action over AFG and MAA "resulted from a continuing national review and investigation of air-taxi operational control issues".

Source: Flight International