Hillsboro pledges to fight proposed civil penalty

 - September 30, 2010, 6:08 AM

Hillsboro Aviation executives believe the company is being punished for good behavior.

The operator of the world’s second-largest civil helicopter flight school said it will fight a proposed $580,000 FAA civil penalty for alleged maintenance and air safety issues that occurred in 2008 and were voluntarily reported to the agency, and that it has already spent “millions of dollars” correcting.  

Hillsboro Aviation general manager of operations Jon Hay told AIN that he considers the FAA action, announced in August, a “slap in the face” given the extensive corrective measures the company has put in place and in light of the fact that the company’s local FAA representatives recommended a “zero fine.”

Improper Repairs Alleged
The proposed penalty is for alleged violations of the Federal Aviation Regulations that occurred in 2008. They included performing improper repairs, falsifying maintenance records and reckless operation of a helicopter.

Hay said the violations stem from the action of a single pilot who was terminated and by fellow employees who covered up his acts. Those included performing helicopter main­tenance even though he is not a licensed airframe and powerplant mechanic. “He was doing [maintenance] things that were unauthorized. He was not told to do that maintenance and he did it. We terminated him from that position as well as other people involved in that process,” Hay said.

The FAA also alleged that Hillsboro used incorrect parts, did not log maintenance and falsified maintenance records concerning Airworthiness Directive compliance. One Hillsboro Bell 206 made 103 flights–including four under Part 135–when it was out of compliance. A second Hills-boro 206 made 430 flights between January and September 2008 without the proper inspections being performed after specified flight intervals.
Hillsboro operates 78 aircraft and an estimated half of those are helicopters, Hay said.

Hay said Hillsboro promptly reported these problems to the FAA and “terminated the people who were involved, completely stood down our entire fleet to make sure there was no lasting effect from those people’s involvement, and we did a complete inspection of our entire fleet before we sent them back out flying again.”  

Then Hillsboro instituted new processes and procedures designed to improve safety and hired additional personnel. “We’ve done a lot. We’ve put in a new safety management system; we’ve added new positions, including a director of maintenance on our Part 141 certificate. That is not required. We’ve overhauled and rewritten our manuals and gotten the FAA’s blessing on them and beefed up our safety management position–and just really done everything we could to demonstrate to the flying public and the FAA that we are really on top of this,” Hay said.  

“Our past regulation violation history is practically nonexistent. We’ve flown 80 million miles and we fly 55,000 hours a year,” Hay said.

“Two years after the fact, when our local inspectors are telling us that things are great now, and they are really impressed, now we get this [FAA] press release. The fine is a proposal to us. We can elect to pay it or elect to fight it, and we will be fighting it. We think it is unfair in light of the fact that we have spent millions of dollars fixing ourselves. Any fine that they would levy would be small compared to this other stuff that we have done. Having this fine on top of that is a real slap as far as we are concerned. We will have an opportunity to negotiate this fine down and if it does not come down we will have the opportunity to take it to a judge and let the judge decide,” Hay said.