Avantair Fleet Grounding Apparently Continues

 - October 25, 2012, 3:12 PM

The voluntary fleet grounding at Avantair apparently is continuing into its sixth day. Avantair told AIN earlier this week that it stood down its entire fleet of about 60 Piaggio Avantis on Saturday to conduct safety checks. According to sources, the action was prompted by a July 28 incident in which an Avantair Avanti shed an elevator in flight. On Tuesday, Avantair reported that 40 of its aircraft were back in service, but data from flight-tracking website FlightAware shows that none of the company’s aircraft are in the air today, suggesting the entire fleet is again grounded. Avantair was not available for comment at press time.

Comments

Don's picture

They told me last night at 11pm when they cancelled my flight for this morning that the entire fleet was grounded for 5 to 7 more days. Doesn't sound promising and as an owner I can tell you that there has been zero communication from Avantair, and if it wasn't for my cancelled flight today I still probably wouldn't know anything was wrong at Avantair. I am very frustrated with how this has been handled. Those of us who paid a lot of money for our shares and pay monthly management fees to them deserve some answers. Don

Pilot's picture

Don, I am sorry you have been treated this way by Avantair. They have had the same indifference toward their pilots, who are a great group of professionals. Yesterday afternoon (Friday 10/26) we all received emails telling us we are no longer employed. A website called airlinepilotcentral has forums where some pilots are able to communicate. This was posted by another Avantair pilot and may give some insight into the conditions we were flying under. I wholeheatedly agree with his assessment. The condition of the aircraft and maintenance is deplorable with pressure from management to fly in unsafe situations. Recently, I have contantly worried it was only a matter of time before a tradgedy was to occur with loss of life. Most pilots have been looking for other employment for the past few months because of the unsafe and terrible working conditions for them at Avantair. Management only seems to care about padding their own pockets. Here is a quote from one of the pilots on airlinepilotcentral:

"Not surprised a bit about the maintenance. They've always had bad maintenance. Most of the pilots there don't know it. I've spent enough time in the shop and dealing with the maintenance side of the house to have seen it, though. I've personally seen falsification of maintenance paperwork on numerous occasions at Avantair, as well as pressure to fly unairworthy aircraft. Improper repairs. A gear door that was falling off. Two occasions of lightening strikes and electrical discharges in which the crew was ordered to fly the aircraft (and refused)...on one of those occasions the Chief Pilot came out and flew it instead. The engines had to be removed and torn down, the propellers needed overhaul, the airframe needed degaussed, and holes were burned through the airframe all over.

"I once picked up one of their airplanes from maintenance, flew it on a short leg, and landed with sixteen major squawks. The company accused me of performing "shirt-pocket maintenance." I asked what that meant, and I was told I'd obviously been flying the airplane for a week, and hiding all the squawks. When I pointed out that I picked up the airplane at one maintenance base (after completing an inspection and being released as airworthy) and flew it on one leg to another maintenance base, where I grounded the airplane. They tried to make the paperwork disappear.

"I found one of electrical tape hiding an annunciator that was illuminated full time, with a bogus MEL sign off. The FAA got hold of that one, threatened to yank the company 135 certificate. The mechanic who signed it off got fired, and the base closed. The Director of Operations quit (reportedly had a nervous breakdown), and the Director of Maintenance, who wasn't qualified, was replaced.

"I was threatened with termination twice for "flying through thunderstorms" that resulted in "lightening strikes," although neither time did we go near a storm. Turns out that the company had the airplane repainted and didn't bother bonding the control surfaces, nor were the discharge wicks bonded to the airframe. Same airframe both times. The company blamed me...I didn't find out about it until later, when talking with someone in maintenance.

"I was in the shop one day when the police arrived to take away one of the senior mechanics, in handcuffs.

"We had an airplane get so hot due to a bleed leak that the passenger, a wealthy owner, took off his clothes and lay on the floor to escape the heat. All of his christmas gifts melted. I grounded the airplane. The company demanded I fly it. That happened twice.

"When I went through FSI, the instructor asked if anyone in the class had experienced any emergencies. Every person replied yes, and we took a list of what we'd collectively experienced...every emergency and abnormal in the book, just in that small group, in a one year period. I had an engine failure, rapid depressurization, gear failure, brake failures, total electrical failures, and a host of other issues.

"I was fired for trying to bring a union on the property...and I didn't know anything about the union...didn't find out about it until later, when Santo himself offered me my job back...and instructed me to make sure everyone knew it had nothing to do with the union. First time I'd heard about a union. They fired four people, me one of them, over that...and got the wrong people. They were so hot to trot over it that they fabricated a list of seventeen false charges (my favorite was that I'd "bent a flap in half over a GPU"--didn't happen, like all the charges). Complete fabrications. it's the way they operate, though.

"Their training bond, offered after people had already quit their other jobs and were in class for initial...very poor form. Eighteen grand and not even a type rating?

"Refused a flight once due to level 5 thunderstorms in a wide meso complex and squall, and received threatening calls from the Chief Pilot every 15 minutes thereafter pressuring me to take the flight, demanding I prove why I didn't, etc.

"Called once after being debriefed by the last crew to fly the airplane, to enquire about the squawk: brakes failed and an unreliable engine, and a prop that wouldn't feather. The response was the Director of Operations on the line, saying "we don't need people like you flying the airplane." He called back the previous crew, one of them who was on his way out of the country to get married, and demanded that he fly the airplane to a maintenance base. I was told to ride in back and let the previous pilot fly the airplane single pilot. That sort of treatment wasn't unusual.

"We lost an engine leaving Greenville, after a total loss of oil pressure. We notified ATC that we were returning. ATC made a declaration of emergency for us, without our request, and rolled the rescue trucks. I was admonished by the company for rolling the trucks and told not to do it again.

"During training in the airplane, while IMC, on an approach, the check airman shut off the generator on one engine then failed the other engine, leaving us without power. V1 cuts in a Part 23 airplane, direction to use full reverse in a crosswind on one engine following a single-engine approach, and other gems were viewed multiple times during training.

"On more than a few occasions I turned in squawk lists and made photocopies. When the airplane was released from maintenance, I compared the paperwork and found it doctored.

"Just the tip of the iceberg. The Piaggio was a fun airplane to fly, and I met some great guys out on the line, but I wasn't at all impressed with the "dispatchers" and schedulers, and wasn't one bit impressed with the maintenance.

"I saw engines pulled off the airframe and laid on the floor (no stand), crushing oil tubes. I participated in the shop in inspections, and was told I didn't need maintenance publications, and was dressed-down for requesting to see the microfiche or mx pubs on a disc. I requested a torque wrench, and was told I didn't need one; I was told to use a "calibrated elbow," and that since I would fly the aircraft, I ought to use whatever torque I felt comfortable using "because it's your butt."

"When handed a 100 hour kit once, with all the seals, filters, and o-rings for one engine, I was told to perform the inspections on the left engine. I laid each seal in it's wrapping out, and finally obtained an illustrated parts catalog for the engine. I checked off each seal, and wrote on the wrapper it's application. Then as each seal was removed from the airplane, I matched it against the new one, and lined it up along the table; one off, one on, each accounted, each verified by part number and comparison. I was told they'd never seen that done.

"I saw tool boxes full of tools piled in each drawer. No shadowing of boxes. No tool accountability. I didn't see calibrated tools, and I didn't see very good tools, either.

"I'm sorry for those who have been furloughed, and I hope they find something quickly. I'm not at all surprised that Avantair has found themselves in this position. It's a shame, too, because there's no reason why the aircraft can't be better maintained and better managed. The Piaggios are actually quite fragile aircraft...small wiring, lots of wires ganged into single terminal ends, far more splices in wire runs than allowed in US produced aircraft, no antiskid, etc...the aircraft need more maintenance than they've had in the past, and the FAA has come calling more than once before. I know...they've called me for details when I got stuck with the company's failings or falsification.

"Hopefully Avantair will get their act together and fulfill their obligation to the clients and to the employees as soon as possible."

Joe Fly Guy's picture

I think this post by a former pilot named Kyle. He was a real trouble maker. He was always trying to do things that would make others look bad and himself look good. Ultimately, he tried to organize a union and when he was unsuccessful he was "injured" on the job. So anything that he says really should be taken with a grain of salt as he certainly has an axe to grind.

andy's picture

I work at a different fractional and see Avantair crews everywhere I go. How you guys haven't killed anybody yet is amazing. I have personally overheard your pilots on the phone being threatened with termination for not wanting to fly an aircraft with a total screen failure after coming back to an emergency landing at TEB in 1 mile and 400 ovc! I've talked to one of Avantair crews that clicked the autopilot off on an ILS, just to find it took both pilots to break the yoke free, apparently frozen elevator cables from a leaking lav toilet! And it was the second time that day they had it happen. The First Officer was refusing to fly it again and the Captain was throwing him under the bus on his phone convo with your CP! I was in APA- a group of your passengers were there and had been waiting for over 3 hours for the inbound aircraft. When it arrived, the captain totally ignored them for over 45 min utes. Finally one of them approached him to ask about their 4 hour delay and when they could expect to arrive at their destination. The Captain look haggard and disheveled. He told them that the air conditioning is not working in the Piaggio, and it would be very hot in the cabin. He also said that they had been flying it like that for the last 3 days and were waiting until they passed thru a maintenance facility to write it up! At that point I had been on the way out to my aircraft to get it fueled- we were parked next to the Piaggio. I spoke with the FO. He complained to me at length about how Avantair management had threatened to fire them if they wrote it up before they got it to Camarillo in 2 more days!! These guys looked like hell. Shirts soaked thru. Collars undone and ties off. Exhausted. They had obviously been in one serious oven of an airplane.
These are just a few of the incidents that come to mind. There are plenty more. You guys have no business flying aircraft in these horrible UNSAFE conditions. You endanger the entire industry. And you slam this guy for being a touble-maker, a "mal-content"? You should have slammed him for NOT BLOWING THE WHISTLE SOONER!!! You should be slamming the entire management team for threatening pilots that are just trying to stay alive or not get violated! You should be outraged at the spineless pilots who tow the company line and do nothing to make that place safe to work! You should be wondering who is getting paid off and how much!! YOU ARE THE PROBLEM!!!!!

AVANTAIR PILOT's picture

You are absolutely correct. The situations that you describe were common. There are SO MANY examples of unbelievably horrible situations encountered by Avantair pilots. And there were constant rumblings from management about writing up airplanes and immense pressure to fly with threats of being fired for refusal. It was a completely unsafe opertation and only a matter of time before something tragic happened.

AAIR insider's picture

With the stock price in the toilet, it is only time before the company which hasn't posted a profit ever, the company will be gone.

AAIR outsider's picture

Thank god have I left this sinking ship on my own terms.

Stock at an ALL-TIME-LOW. Take your shares and run if you still have some. Better 28 cents a share than *ZERO once the company goes belly up.

Good luck to the rest of you, as you will need it.

Chad Trautvetter's picture

This press release was just issued by Avantair a few minutes ago:

AVANTAIR UPDATE ON VOLUNTARY STAND-DOWN OF OPERATIONS

CLEARWATER, Fla. – October 25, 2012 — Avantair, Inc. (OTCBB: AAIR), today announced the company is continuing to stand down operations and engaging top aviation experts to help complete a thorough examination of its fleet of nearly 60 Piaggio Avanti aircraft, and a comprehensive review of records and supporting maintenance documentation. The voluntary action is being taken in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“For the past week, we have been undertaking extensive inspections of our fleet and our operating procedures. These inspections and other actions are still underway. But this further action is necessary to ensure every aspect of our operation will allow us to reach the next level of safety and performance and exceed the highest industry standard,” said Steven Santo, Avantair CEO.

“We are enhancing our maintenance and operational infrastructure so that it surpasses every standard that applies to the aircraft we fly. With our new processes and procedures, Avantair will satisfy the heightened requirements governing the largest aircraft types in our industry. When we resume operations, we will have the most reliable fleet in our industry embracing the highest standards in aviation,” said Mr. Santo.

Avantair has retained safety expert Nick Sabatini to oversee the project. Mr. Sabatini previously was the top career official at the FAA.

“We know this is an extremely difficult period for our loyal employees and frustrating to our devoted owners,” said Mr. Santo. “We are grateful for their understanding and patience as we work through this important process. We are confident we are laying the groundwork necessary to offer outstanding service and reliability going forward.”

Donald Norris's picture

I have only recently been using Avantair but the flights I have taken have been flawless. The pilots were very professional,courteous, and experienced. I look forward to my next trip. Don

Laid Off Avantair Employee's picture

Mr. Norris,

You are one of the lucky few. As pilots, there was rarely a day that we did not experience maintenance issues on the aircraft, yet were pressured to fly by management. Some lost their jobs for failure to give in to the pressure and grounded planes for maintenance (as required by the FAA regulations). If a Captain made the decision to divert due to safety issues, his phone would begin to ring as soon as he landed, receiving multiple threatening calls from management - from the Chief Pilot to the Director of Opertations. Owners were lied to about reasons for aircraft delay, usually blaming it on the pilots when in fact it was that the aircraft was in maintenance and the mechanics were pressured to push them out without performing the necessary work. This is why the FAA is finally investigating and hopefully they are going over the maintenance records (and likely catching falsifications.)

Pilots were scheduled to fly 14 hour days while carrying passengers under Part 135 regulations and another 1-2 hours to reposition the aircraft for the next day, with Avantair classifying the repositioning flights under Part 91 regulations. If passenger flights were scheduled beyond the 14 hour duty day, Avantair management would tell the pilots that the "owner" is not paying for the flight, therefore classifying it a Part 91 flight, as well. This is not what the FAA intended when Part 91 was enacted. It does not protect the paying passenger. However, if you wanted to keep your job, you flew the flight. Note that Avantair is owned by Steve Santo, who is an attorney.

15-16 hour duty days are exhausting and only 10 hours was scheduled for "rest", which included travel to the hotel, flight planning for the next day, finding a meal, etc. So most pilots only got 5-6 hours sleep a night while on duty for a week or more. Pilots work a week at a time, so fatigue is the norm. The flights were also scheduled back to back throughout the day, with very little time between flights. This resulted in extreme pressure to drop off passengers, get your paperwork in order, fuel, inspection, etc. and get off the ground. As a result, it is impossible to do anything thoroughly, including pre/post flight inspections by the crew. This likely explains why the First Officer did not notice the left elevator was missing from the tail on the San Diego to Henderson, NV flight back in July. The Captain, who has a baby on the way, was fired as a result of the First Officer's oversight. The aircraft had just come out of maintenance in Camarillo, CA when the elevator was found on the runway in Camarillo.

I'm glad that your experience with Avantair was a good one. The pilots are a great group of people and really do their best to make the passengers happy. Unfortunately, the passengers have no way of knowing what is really going on behind the scenes.

MizPilotWife's picture

All I know is that all the pilots who were at training to do their line checks were sent home before they did their check rides...........

Piaggio Pilot's picture

There are 2 ex-Avantair pilots based in Colorado who left Avantair for obvious reasons. We would be more than happy to speak with any Colorado based owners who might be looking for an experienced Piaggio crew. Please contact me at the e-mail address below if you are interested. (Please expect us to be bashed by current Avantiar employees. They are understandably bitter and we don't blame them.)

Edge15Buyer's picture

Hello!

I'm considering buying a 15-hour Edge card; I love the Avanti II, can't afford one myself, but after considerable research (not just here), am a bit concerned overall about Avantair's current situation. I would be happy to hear a recap of your experience there and your recommendations for where my flight dollars would be best spent this year. Thanks!

Chad Trautvetter's picture

Advertising of any kind is not allowed in our comments section. I’ve removed Kyle’s email address above since this is not a pilot placement service, and I’ve also deleted a charter company’s post trolling for business from Avantair customers.

Piaggio Pilot's picture

I didn't realize the e-mail address was an issue. I saw an Avantair pilot's wife offer the same thing to prospective owners out of Vegas so I assumed it was a good idea. :)

Chad Trautvetter's picture

Now, on to the rumors about the FAA pulling Avantair’s certificate. Let me be clear here and confirm that they are just rumors. Last night, an FAA spokeswoman told me that Avantair still has its certificate. Earlier, she also confirmed that Avantair’s grounding was indeed voluntary and not mandated by the FAA.

Craig's picture

While it is true that the FAA did not mandate the grounding, it was likely in the works. The FAA has had their radar on Avantair for some time now. Likely similar to the situation one faces when losing a government job: You can resign or be fired.

Avantair "voluntarily" grounded their fleet. That sounds so much better to the paying customers. Unfortunately, those customers don't know about all of the maintenance issues and safety concerns that have never been disclosed to the public. Now that the pilots have lost their jobs, (...ahem...I mean they have been furloughed...wink*wink*) the truth is coming out. Although for those who are governed by the furlogh, what they can legally disclose is limited. The pilots were reminded by Steve Santo in his "Dear John" letter to them that they are on unpaid furlogh, which according to company policy means they can not communicate or respond to inquiries of any kind from owners, etc.

To be clear, I am not currently employed by Avantair so am not held to the legalities of their "policies".

Piaggiodriver's picture

Day 2 of a fleet wide grounding and no information sent to the pilots! Hopefully they will start communicating with their employees soon.....

Geo's picture

Having former FAA official Nick Sabatini inboard is a serious mistake. He was seriously compromised in the Eclipse fiasco when the FAA awarded a Type Certificate and then a Production Certificate before FAA career employees involved felt the company was ready. Marion Blakely was also implicated.

The only thought is that he may still have enough connections within the FAA to prevent the certificate from being pulled.

John H Logan's picture

This is why putting money into a program can be a risk. Sometimes a broker is the best way to go..I use Jet Partners, they take use of the fleets of many different companies so if one is grounded or has problems they just go to another.

Mr. Wagner's picture

I have been with Avantair for 6 yrs. Overall I have been very pleased with the service I receive. The aircraft is very comfortable and does the job I need it to do. I am having a difficult time right now with out their services but I, for one, look forward to the new improved product. I will stick with he program because I have been treated well for 6 yrs. I'm not saying there has been no bumps in the road but you will hit those with Netjets too. It will just cost you double...

Craig's picture

I takes A LOT for the FAA to call for investigation of the entire fleet. There is a very real possibility that Avantair will lose its certificate to fly and will fold. The safety issues coupled with the dire financial situation points to the company going out of business. Steve Santo talks a good game, but it is B.S. Sorry to say that, but it is true.

All of the pilots were notified yesterday by email that they have lost their jobs. This, after Avantair recently cut their pay and benefits. Keep in mind, a first officer only earned $35,000 a year before the reduction. Avantair's financial situation was disclosed to a few prior to the cuts. Shortly after, top management (Kevin Beitzel) quit and those who saw the financials said that it would be a miracle if the company made it through the end of 2012. This had nothing to do with the maintenance issues (ie. the elevator falling off the tail of one aircraft three months ago). But Steve Santo is blaming their situation on that incident.

There are several other safety issues not released that led to the FAA's investigation. Just prior to the layoff, the pilots were organizing a union drive to protect them from the abuse and unsafe work environment imposed on them. If they chose not to comply, they lost their job. In this economy, that is a difficult prospect. Employees are now coming forward with the truth and the final nail is in the coffin.

Dedicated Avantair Employee's picture

It's horrible to see that the negatives of this event for sure. However the pilots writing all these things on line is ridiculous. We are all personally responsible for our own actions. As a technician I don't do anything unsafe or illegal and as a pilot you shouldn't either. That's your move, if you chose to fly it your certificate should be revoked! If the plane is unsafe don't fly it!!! Just like the pilot that flew without the elevator, he failed to notice it missing on his walk around. Who does that reflect upon? All illegal and wrongful activities are done on a personal decision and in which case you shouldn't do it, especially if you're uncomfortable that's why we have the FAA. The company is working hard right now to exceed their safety standards and come back running hard. The furlo is unfortunate however what is required at this time to get the company back up and running.

AVANTAIR PILOT's picture

@ Dedicated Avantair Employee - You need a reality check! Management is all about smoke and mirrors with the owners and abusing the aircraft and pilots. The operation is a joke. You say you are a technician...You don't know about the pressure put on pilots to fly at all costs, including unsafe conditions and with non-MELable items. If they don't comply, they lose their job. Good luck finding another job as a pilot in the current economy. So basically, it's a choice between cowtowing to management and the chief pilot or lose your home, face bankruptcy, etc. The company says it is working hard to exceed their safety standards...that's not saying much as the operation wasn't at all safe in the first place. The truth is that the Piaggo is not built to fly as a commuter and the fleet is literally falling apart. The company doesn't have the money to keep the planed fixed, so they are robbing parts from older aircraft. Maintenance items are written up, commonly signed off by mechanics and not fixed. The FAA will find this over and over again in the maintenance logs. I can't believe you are buying the B.S. they are feeding you.

ARapetti & CJones's picture

Bring me back and my Flying Red Ferrari P180.

Bottom line owners. You should be looking into the P180 you have shares in and seeing if Avantair took parts from a older P180 and put it in your newer one because they didn't want to order new parts for it.

In the back hanger (at PIE) they have 3-4 older P180s that they have taken parts off of. I would bet your investment will take a large hit once you start looking into this.

maybe they should go to the Elementary Etiquette Society and take a Corporate Etiquette and Ethics Class in PBI :)

Mark humphreys's picture

I have a question for everyone, I just bought a Avanti, based now in KADS Dallas it has gone through thorough checks by Stevens Avaition, now we are putting new avionics in the plane including some Garmin Glass. My questions are;

1. Will this mean extensive availability of pilots?
2. I'm concerned if Avantair is put in bankruptcy will that put 60 p180 on the block devastating my current p180 value?
3. Is this a real opportunity for me to lease my plane out more now since avantiair is grounded. We added part 135 to my plane

Any comments are appreciated.

Geo's picture

Who is paying for the Garmin installation?

If it were my airplane, and I had confidence in Stevens, I would tell them to stop all work and for them to ensure that no one touches the airplane until the mess gets straightened out. I would also tell them to safeguard the logbooks and all records in a secure place and to not let ANYONE have access to them or the aircraft in the absence of you and your independent aviation professional. That ESPECIALLY goes for Rick Sabatini, the retired FAA mandarin hired by Avantair to make the problem go away.

It also goes for current FAA employees. If they had been doing their jobs you would not be in this position.

Steve's picture

Seriously, Mark?

Answers to your questions:

1. Duh! What do you think?

2. Is this a question or a comment?

3. DuH! What do you think?

Your questions and concerns display your ignorance. Don't buy any plane, you are too stupid to own one.

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