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Hacking and the Charter Aircraft Industry in The Bahamas

The Pilot of the Aztec aircraft that crashed, killing himself and five other people did not have a Pilot’s License to carry passengers. These are the reports coming from a preliminary investigation of the fatal crash of the Piper Aztec plane in Andros Island in the Bahamas. The facts seem to suggest, per crash investigator, Mr. Delvin Major, that Mr. Darren Clarke who was piloting the aircraft was a licensed Private Pilot but purportedly not a licensed Commercial Pilot. Why is this important and is this a distinction with an important difference?

The Law in the Bahamas and in the United States does not generally permit the ferrying of persons in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas “for profit” without the holding of a Commercial Pilot’s License. The Civil Aviation Department of the Bahamas requires that Pilots obtain an Air Operators License to fly commercially. The purpose of the Air Operators Certificate is to ensure that a Pilot is instrument trained permitting that Pilot to navigate poor weather conditions, which conditions a Pilot must have instruments upon which to rely and fly.

The untimely crash of this Aircraft has again raised concerns as regards the number of Aircraft owners and Pilots who daily operate charters in the Bahamas without the necessary training to obtain Commercial Aircraft proficiency. It is an area of serious concern.  One prominent Bahamian Airline Owner, Mr. Randy Butler, has characterized the aforementioned practices as dangerous and life threatening. An important question for investigators will be the competency and experience of the Pilot and whether he was trained to fly this route in “weather ” and without the requisite Pilot’s License. Reports indicate that he was limited to flight by ” airplane multi engine visual flight rules”. It was June 16, 1999 when another aircraft went down by accident with eerily similar facts. On that day John F. Kennedy Jr. died when the airplane he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the Massachusetts coast. Kennedy’s wife and her sister were also tragically killed. The Piper Saratoga was obliged to fly a route in circumstances where the weather and light conditions were such that all basic landmarks were obscured making visual flight, for an aircraft without instruments nearly impossible. An official investigation later concluded that Kennedy, the Pilot, fell victim to “spatial disorientation” while attempting to land in poor visual conditions and lost control of the aircraft. An absolutely important finding, in addition, was that Kennedy did not hold an “instrument rating” and was therefore only permitted to fly under “visual flight rules”.

An Aviation accident is usually described as an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft, which takes place between the time any person boards an aircraft with the intention of flight until all such persons have disembarked, where a person is fatally or seriously injured. It will be important to see and read the official report as regards this most recent accident in the Bahamas.

Clearly a number of important legal concerns arise without drawing any conclusions. Air travel in the Bahamas is common and generally speaking it is very safe. When unfortunate accidents happen however they can be fatal. The more common cause for accidents in the Bahamas include but are not limited to: a.) Pilot Error b.) Structural design issues c.) Engine Failure and d.) Problematic weather. We entreat our readers to know that liability for such accidents may visit the owner and Pilot of the accident equally. The owner of a chartered aircraft does not escape liability simply because he had loaned out or chartered his aircraft to another person.

In all aviation cases it is necessary to obtain legal representation. Airlines, like insurance companies, are loath to prevaricate with victims or decadent heirs to settle claims. We discourage meeting with Insurance companies and rushing to a quick settlement as unrepresented litigants invariably receive less favorable results. We recommend legal representation as the number of defendants includes Pilots, the Pilot’s employers, owners and lessors of the aircraft, the aircrafts manufacturers and maintenance personnel, air traffic controllers and the Civil Aviation Authority.

“HACKING IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS COULD BE A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.”

Halsbury Chambers