In a move that the National Air Transportation Association hopes will increase awareness of illegal activity, the FAA has referred its civil penalty enforcement action against Portage, Michigan-based Hinman Co. to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for resolution.
This summer, the agency proposed a $3.3 million civil penalty against Hinman for allegedly “conducting hundreds of commercial aircraft operations in violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations, including failing to hold the required operator certificate for the flights being performed.” This activity occurred through Hinman’s subsidiary Hincojet, involving a Beechcraft Beechjet 400A and a Hawker 900XP, the agency added.
In its civil penalty case, the FAA alleges the company conducted more than 800 commercial charter flights without either proper FAA certification or DOT economic authority, approved pilots, or authorized training. The company had entered into time-sharing arrangements for the aircraft but operated the flights for a profit, according to the FAA.
Hinman representatives said they are "aware of the lawsuit and welcomes the opportunity to tell its side of the story as the legal process runs its course. We look forward to a proper resolution of the matter once all the facts are known."
John McGraw, director of regulatory affairs for NATA, however, said, "This case should give all aircraft owners pause and demonstrates that engaging in illegal timesharing, participating in improper leasing schemes, or establishing so-called flight department companies creates significant risk for aircraft owners.”
The FAA on October 4 referred this case to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. “Such a referral is not common and speaks to the significance of the violations,” McGraw added. “The FAA’s decision to involve the Justice Department sends a clear message to aircraft owners and the industry that the government takes noncompliance seriously, particularly when unauthorized air carrier operations occur.”
NATA, which has been engaged in a multipronged effort to highlight illegal activity, including sorting out and educating what is and isn’t permissible, believes this is the first of several cases that will come to light as the FAA steps up its focus on so-called gray charter.