Editorial: Shell Shock

 - November 6, 2007, 9:25 AM

When the FAA pulled the trigger on AMI Jet Charter and TAG Aviation USA last month, a silence settled over the land that was almost reminiscent of the empty skies after 9/11. Many in business aviation had been aware for months that the feds were going after AMI/TAG with a perplexing intensity, but nobody was saying anything publicly. AMI/TAG suffered what appeared to be an attack of a thousand indeterminate cuts, silently and privately lest it incite an escalation to major gashes. Others looked on as AMI/TAG endured, silently too lest they attract similar attention.

Such was the background to the October 4 and October 12 suspension and revocation of AMI’s Part 135 certificate, but the FAA’s published “case” on AMI did little to dispel the mystery about the motivation for what had come to be regarded as its witch hunt against one of the stronger players in the charter business. If, in the wake of the Challenger accident at Teterboro in February 2005, the FAA set out to spook the whole charter community it could not have done so more effectively. Had the agency merely squashed an obscure “cockroach corner” operator, the charter industry would have shrugged, said he’d had it coming and carried on. Apparently the FAA was convinced that business as usual was not squeaky clean enough.

For a couple of big charter operators that ply U.S. skies, the slaughter of AMI/ TAG must be particularly disturbing because the FAA’s chosen weapon was the issue of foreign ownership and control, barely concealed beneath a skimpy veil of “flight safety.” The full facts of this confrontation are currently known by only the two protagonists and their respective counsel, but business aviation as a whole is unconvinced about the FAA’s grounds for pulling an emergency suspension and revocation after months of file-cabinet forensics.

For those inclined to embrace conspiracy theories, the FAA’s pursuit of AMI/TAG might have been another facet of its overt alliance with the airlines on the issue of user fees; or perhaps driven by a distrust, in higher government circles, of TAG’s owners’ Middle Eastern roots. Denied all requests for interviews with the FAA thus far, AIN will be watching as closely as any for more details to emerge from the murk.