More ‘Qs’ than ‘As’ in Teterboro accident

 - January 30, 2007, 10:56 AM

When a Challenger 600 operated by Platinum Jet Management overran the runway during an aborted takeoff at Teterboro Airport in February, crossed a busy highway and crashed into a warehouse, there was a collective sigh of relief when all eight passengers and the crew emerged with non-life-threatening injuries.

Now that the wreckage has been hauled away, the airport boundary fence repaired and the NTSB has begun its investigation, the mystery of who, what and why is just beginning.
•    A motorist injured when the airplane struck his automobile has filed a $12.5 million notice of claim against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a separate lawsuit against 11 other entities associated with the crash.
•    A passenger in the same car remains in a coma while lawyers wait in the wings.
•    The FAA has grounded Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Platinum Jet Management, saying it was operating illegally.
•    The agency has also approved a grant
to install safety barriers at the end of
the overrun.
•    Two other runway excursions at Teterboro–by a Hawker 700A on March 8 and a Beechjet on March 11–have added to the ire of anti-airport community groups.
•    Politicians representing a community actively hostile to the airport are making comments such as, “This airport just absolutely does not belong here.”
•    Unrelated, except by proximity, the FAA has issued a safety notice warning pilots departing Teterboro Airport to observe altitude requirements.

The tempest at Teterboro began early on February 2 when the Challenger 600 rolled away from the Atlantic Aviation FBO with contract pilots John Kimberling and Carlos Winston Salaverria Jr. at the controls. A preliminary investigation by the Teterboro Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) indicates because it was carrying passengers for compensation and hire, the flight was covered by Part 135. In the back were “cabin aide” Angelica Calad-Gomez and eight passengers, members of Kelso Investments of New York City and their guests. New York City-based Blue Star Jets had booked the charter on behalf of Kelso.

The Challenger had arrived from Las Vegas at about midnight on February 1 with a different crew. A source at Platinum Jet said both pilots for the morning flight met the applicable flight duty and rest requirements under FAA regulations.

Calad-Gomez, commended by both pilots and passengers for her actions during and after the crash, was a relatively recent hire by Platinum Jet. She had not yet completed formal flight attendant training, said Platinum spokesman Randy Williams, but had gone through an in-house cabin safety program. And he added that because the flight was being conducted under Part 91 (contradicted by the Teterboro FSDO finding), a trained flight attendant was not required. Calad-Gomez was not listed on the manifest as a flight attendant.

Williams said that during the engine run-up, “a test of the control surfaces [revealed that they] were normal.” Moments later, however, as the jet reached the rotation speed of about 135 knots, the pilot-in-command reported that there was only about an inch of movement when he pulled back on the yoke and that the airplane refused to fly. At about 145 knots, with both pilots pulling back on the yoke, Kimberling called an aborted takeoff, applying the brakes and deploying the spoilers and thrust reversers.

Making A Choice To Save Lives
Williams, whom Platinum Jet hired as a safety consultant after the accident, said Kimberling told him that he realized with just seconds remaining, the only choice was what direction to take, and in those seconds he chose to go left of the centerline approach lights toward an area that seemed to present the least ground congestion and potential for loss of life.

The airplane passed the end of the runway left of the approach lights, continued some 300 feet along the grass overrun, tore through the airport boundary fence, crossed six lanes of busy Route 46 and a small parking lot and crashed into the brick wall of the Strawberry clothing warehouse.

Witnesses later said it was fortunate that red lights at the highway intersections had halted much of the traffic. Even so, some 20 injuries were reported, for the crew, passengers and bystanders. Among those on the airplane, the pilots, who suffered broken legs, sustained the most serious injuries. Rohan Foster of Paterson, N.J., the driver of a passing automobile, suffered serious head injuries when the airplane sheared the roof from his car.

On February 22, attorneys for Foster filed a $12.5 million notice of claim with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Foster had been hospitalized and undergone surgery for his injuries. The claim alleges that the Port Authority did not “address the risk of harm to motor vehicles on and about Route 46” and that it was “negligent in the design, construction, maintenance, supervision, management, ownership, direction, operation and control of Teterboro Airport.”

Attorneys Danker & Milstein of New York have also filed a separate lawsuit on Foster’s behalf in the Superior Court of New Jersey against 11 others: Bombardier, DDH Aviation, 448 Alliance, Darby Aviation, Platinum Jet Management, Atlantic Aviation, Million Air Teterboro, Million Air Interlink, Avports and the pilots of the airplane. In the suit, Foster alleges negligence “in the design, manufacture, inspection, testing, maintenance, sale, leasing, control, management and piloting of the airplane, and maintenance, operation, management and control of the airport.” The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and “special” damages for injuries sustained in the accident.

James Dinnal, 66, a passenger in Foster’s car, was also injured. As of late March he remained in a coma at Hackensack University Medical Center, according to Foster’s attorney, Edward Milstein.

On the evening of March 2, Platinum Jet Management learned that the FAA had issued an “emergency cease and desist order” requiring the company to stop operating as a Part 135 air carrier. According to the FAA, Platinum Jet does not hold an air carrier certificate as required under FARs for companies flying passengers for compensation or hire. “As such, Platinum Jet is not authorized to conduct operations under that part of the FAA regulations.” Platinum Jet disagrees.

Williams said that Platinum managed the Challenger 600, N370V, on behalf of the owner and that the airplane was operated legally under a Part 135 certificate issued to Darby Aviation of Muscle Shoals, Ala., doing business as AlphaJet, also of Muscle Shoals, Ala. and based at Northwest Alabama Regional Airport. Under the agreement, said Williams, Platinum provided aircraft, contract crews and scheduling service. In return, Platinum paid AlphaJet a “certificate fee” and 10 percent of all charter revenues. AlphaJet, as the certificate holder, was responsible for pilot training records.

In fact, said Williams, the FAA, prompted by the Platinum arrangement with Darby Aviation, is conducting its own internal investigation of such arrangements. Williams said the Challenger involved in the accident, managed by Platinum Jet, had been placed on the Darby Part 135 certificate with the approval of the Birmingham, Ala. FAA FSDO.

Platinum Jet Management is a private company, owned by brothers Mike and Paul Brassington (CEO and president, respectively) and general manager Andre Budhan. Both Brassingtons are pilots rated in the Challenger 600. None of the three is a U.S. citizen, so the company is ineligible to receive a Part 135 certificate.

In fact, there seems to be some question as to whether the flight was being conducted under Part 91 or Part 135. Williams told AIN emphatically that the flight was conducted under Part 91, noting that the pilot-in-command had not yet been through indoctrination training and was not approved for a Part 135 operation.

A source at Blue Star Jets expressed surprise that the flight would have been conducted under Part 91, as claimed by Williams. “We only deal with Part 135 charter…and I have no reason to believe it was anything else.” He also recalled being assured by Platinum Jet that it had a “gold” rating from aviation safety audit specialist ARG/US of Cincinnati.

The story from ARG/US, however, differs. According to company president Joe Moeggenberg, “Platinum Jet had not been rated by us at all, and while Darby Aviation had a gold rating, the pilot-in-command would not have been approved by ARG/US for that flight, having not been approved for a Part 135 operation.”

In a separate action, the FAA also went through the U.S. District Court of New Jersey on February 16, requiring Platinum to provide documentation of its operations, including training and pay records for the flight crew, advertising agreements, and aircraft maintenance and flight logs.

Platinum Jet objected to the extent of the subpoena, saying that its turning over certain records violated the privacy of the flight crew. Williams said Platinum Jet was not responsible for the pilot-training documentation. The company maintained that such documentation was the responsibility of the certificate holder, AlphaJet.

Williams added that the subpoena is now moot. At Platinum Jet’s urging, an attorney from the court and two FAA inspectors went to Muscle Shoals and reviewed the documents.

TEB under Fire
In the meantime, the FAA has approved a $500,000 grant that will allow engineers to begin study and construction of arrester bed safety barriers at the end of Runway 6. It is a move that Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) says will make the runway “safer for the surrounding community.” The runway ends just 300 feet from Route 46,
a six-lane main commuter thoroughfare.

A deadline of 2007 has been set to install the arrester bed barriers. Arrester beds are made of lightweight concrete blocks designed to crumble on impact and bring aircraft to a halt with some degree of safety before the airplane reaches the highly congested areas off the airport property.

Teterboro Airport, built in 1919, was “grandfathered” in when new airport standards were written. An FAA spokesman said the airport is “currently in compliance with FAA regulations.”

After the Challenger accident, New Jersey Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson released a statement expressing concern and criticizing “overgrowth and expansion of the Teterboro Airport.”
The two other overruns at the airport in March further provoked community groups, which cite environmental concerns, noise and crash-related danger among their concerns.

Following the FAA’s safety notice concerning altitude deviations, Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful, went so far as to state in a story
in The Record of Bergen County, “This airport just absolutely does not belong here.”
Teterboro Airport is a major general aviation airport just 30 minutes west of New York City’s business and entertainment centers. It is home to five major fixed-based operators, Dassault Falcon Jet headquarters and hangars, numerous business aircraft and helicopter charter operators and corporate flight departments. Officials estimate that 22 percent of the 5,000 people who work at TEB live within a five-mile radius of the airport. According to Port Authority figures, the airport supports approximately 201,000 aircraft movements annually.