HOUSTON - The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern
District of Texas has filed a civil penalty action against Michael D. King and
his solely owned company, Ascent Aviation Solutions LLC, based in Webster,
announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
The suit seeks $154,000 in penalties against King and
Ascent, alleging King has been operating Ascent as a direct air carrier without
the necessary Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification. A direct air
carrier is one who provides, or offers to provide, air transportation and who
maintains control over the operational functions performed in providing the
transportation. In order to operate as a direct air carrier, one must hold an
FAA-issued certificate after demonstrating one meets the requisite requirements.
The complaint alleges Ascent uses what is known in the
industry as a "dry lease" to circumvent the FAA requirements for
direct air carriers. Under such lease, the lessee simply leases the equipment
and is responsible for all aspects of operational control of the plane. The
complaint alleges Ascent entered into a dry lease with a passenger who took at
least 14 trips with Ascent.
The passenger did not have operational control of the
plane, according to the complaint. He allegedly only paid Ascent to fly him
from one city to another. The charges
allege Ascent retained operational control of the aircraft - meaning Ascent,
not the passenger, handled all flight logistics including hiring the pilots.
The complaint alleges pilots had not passed the competency
checks or instrument proficiency checks required under the FAA regulations
governing direct air carriers.
"Air safety and integrity in our system is
important. When operators in any industry evade regulations by naming or
classifying an act as something else, we will hold them accountable," said
Patrick. AAs a licensed pilot myself, I know firsthand the training and
education required to operate in the air transport industry. This action
ensures passengers are protected when they seek private charter travel and
companies compete in a fair manner."
The FAA conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S.
Attorney Michelle Zingaro is handling the case.