Monday, March 19, 2012

Man deported from California over alleged drug ties now key witness in Saadi Gaddafi smuggling case

A photo of the Hawker jet, owned by Christian Esquino, that flew Canadian Cynthia Vanier to North Africa last July. This photo was taken at the airport in Djerba, Tunisia during Ms. Vanier’s expedition

By Stewart Bell and Natalie Alcoba

MEXICO CITY — Hounded by U.S. drug enforcement agents who suspected he was tied to the ultra-violent Tijuana cartel, Christian Esquino was deported to Mexico in 2007 after almost 25 years in southern California.

Now the 49-year-old Mexican businessman has emerged as a central witness in his government’s case against a Canadian and three others accused of plotting to smuggle members of Libya’s infamous Gaddafi family to Mexico.

Mexican court records show that Mr. Esquino, who owns a jet service that flies out of Toluca de Lerdo, 65 kilometres west of Mexico City, told a federal agent on Jan. 9 that he had rented his planes to the suspects last year.

While he testified he did not initially know why his planes were being flown to Canada and then on to North Africa, he said the suspects told his pilots they might have to land on a road in Libya for an “emergency extraction.” Eventually, he testified, he was told his aircraft were to be used to smuggle dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saadi, to Mexico.

Mr. Esquino’s testimony to the Ministerio Publico de la Federacion is not the only evidence cited in court documents that detail the government’s case but it appears to be a critical piece of the puzzle, linking the suspects to an alleged Gaddafi smuggling conspiracy.

Mexican authorities announced last December they had arrested Cynthia Vanier of Mount Forest, Ont., and her alleged associates, Gabriela de Cueto, Pierre Flensborg and Jose Luis Kennedy Prieto. All four were charged last month.

Details of the evidence have not been officially released, but documents obtained by the National Post show the government’s case relies notably on the testimony of Mr. Esquino, a former San Diego resident with a criminal past who runs several companies that own small jets that fly government and corporate clients.

“Christian is absolutely twisting the story,” said Gregory Gillispie, the owner of Veritas Worldwide Security and GG Global Holdings, the San Diego-based company that brokered the planes from Mr. Esquino on behalf of Ms. Vanier. Ms. Cueto and Mr. Flensborg are associated with GG Global Holdings.

Mr. Gillispie said the emergency extraction plan was not a plot to fly the dictator’s family out of Libya. It was simply a contingency plan in case members of Ms. Vanier’s team were injured. Asked if he felt Mr. Esquino was the source of his colleagues’ legal troubles in Mexico, he replied, “Yes, 110 per cent I feel that.”

Contract for Hickory airport fuel depot up for approval

A private plane taxis into the Hickory FBO at the Hickory Regional Airport

By: | Hickory Daily Record

HICKORY NC --  The City of Hickory is ready to build a second fuel farm at the Hickory Regional Airport.

The second fuel depot was part of the plan Hickory presented to a federal bankruptcy court when it successfully petitioned the court to become the service provider and take over sole control of the airport.

The city petitioned the court when the former service provider Riverhawk Aviation could not fulfill its responsibilities and could not form a plan of recover to the satisfaction of the court.

The Hickory City Council is expected to award the fuel farm construction contract at tonight’s meeting at City Hall at 7 p.m.

After reviewing construction proposals received during the bidding process, the city staff will recommend the contract go to Eaglewood Inc. for $778,252. A state grant from the Department of Aviation VISION 100 program will provide $700,427 for the project. The city’s share is $77,825.

According to a news release from Hickory, construction of an aviation fuel farm is needed “to ensure a reliable supply of Jet-A and Av-Gas fuel for airport customers, with the addition of 24-hour self-service for Av-Gas fuel. The airport will also have the additional capacity to store more fuel that will enable the city to purchase large quantities, giving the airport the capacity to extend lower and more competitive fuel prices to its customers.”

Part of the city’s revenue from the airport is through fuel sales. Another primary source of income is hangar rental. Hickory is looking to contract for aircraft maintenance.

Eaglewood Inc. is in Denver, NC.

Hickory took over as the fixed-base operator of the airport on Dec. 9.

The council also is expected to approve a volunteer retirement incentive program.

According to a news release, “Due to economic conditions negatively impacting city revenue and with the city facing a difficult budget year in FY 2013-14, staff would like to achieve savings through a second voluntary retirement incentive program.”

The program would be offered to city employees who are eligible to retire between July 1 and Oct. 1. The city has 84 employees out of its full-time workforce of 616 who qualify. City officials say they will be offered a cash incentive of 50 percent of their annual base salary, but participants must retire between July 1 – the beginning of the next budget year – and Oct. 1.

“In addition, participants may receive city-paid individual health insurance for 6 months from time of retirement if they meet eligibility requirements,” city officials said. They said although not everyone eligible will participate, it is anticipated that some workers will accept the offer and that will reduce personnel costs and leaving some positions vacant.

The report to the council states the number of participants in the program won’t be known until after the Sept. 19 acceptance deadline. The city offered a similar early retirement program in 2009.

Airport execs' globetrotting sparks scrutiny

By Chris O'Malley

The CEO of the Indianapolis Airport Authority and two key officers spent more than $67,000 last year on travel that included extended business trips to Brazil, Denmark, Greece, Morocco and Switzerland.

Nearly half that amount was incurred by CEO John Clark, who arrived in Indianapolis in 2009 under a cloud of controversy stemming from his globetrotting while head of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

Clark’s big trips from Indianapolis last year included an $10,000 journey to Zurich in January to meet with Comlux Aviation executives. He ended the year, in November, with an $8,300 trip to Morocco to attend the Airports Council International World Economics Committee conference.

His flights and lodging, at the Palmeraie Golf Palace in Marrakech, cost $8,020.

Mike Wells, recently appointed to the board by Mayor Greg Ballard and subsequently named its president, said he isn’t happy with the extent of the travel.

“I’m making major changes to the travel policy,” said Wells, president of REI Real Estate Services.

His predecessor, Michael Stayton, resigned in December, saying he’d recently turned 65 and wanted to reduce his commitments.

Wells—who served a stint as president when he was on the airport board from 1992 to 2008—said he’s still getting up to speed.

“It’s still early. However, I think from an order of magnitude I’m led to believe maybe the travel is excessive just in terms of the gross dollar amount.”

Democratic City-County Councilor Angela Mansfield agrees. She said she isn’t comfortable with this level of travel spending by municipal employees—of an airport or not.

Clark “has brought a culture to Indianapolis that wasn’t here before,” she said. “There’s no accountability regarding his expenditures.”

Wells said he’s also concerned about the amount of time the trips keep executives away from the airport. Others must step in to cover their work.

Travel records show Clark was out of Indianapolis for most the first quarter of 2011. In late January, he left for Zurich and was gone for most of the month of February and the last half of March.

Under a policy to be proposed by Wells, airport executives will be required to submit a proposed travel itinerary for the upcoming year.

“What we will do is review that and approve it,” if appropriate, Wells said.

The same will apply to trips that come up on short notice, such as a need to fly to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Federal Aviation Administration, Wells added.

“That’s the way it was when I was president of the board, before.”

Wells conceded that he could be perceived by airport executives as micromanaging.

“If so, so be it,” Wells said. “I’m probably not going to win homecoming king at the airport.”

‘Best practices’

Airport officials said Clark, 51, was not available for an interview, but he provided written responses to IBJ’s questions.

Clark said he went to Zurich at the invitation of the president of Comlux “to promote the aircraft-finishing business” the company has in Indianapolis.

“The trip to Zurich was directly related to fostering the addition of 500 jobs supporting the Comlux operation here; Comlux clients wanted to hear from the IAA directly,” Clark said in his statement.

It’s not clear whether Clark helped persuade Comlux customers to bring more planes here for refurbishing. But the Swiss company already had announced two years earlier that it planned to expand the local base and add 500 jobs over five years.

Clark has long defended his travel in Jacksonville and Indianapolis, saying many of the trips were related to his roles with the industry’s key trade group, Airports Council International, where he is a former chairman.

In his statement, he added: “In other cases, the objective [of travel] is to observe and improve upon best practices that can be applied directly to IND.”

Toward that end, he encouraged Marsha Stone, the airport’s chief financial officer, to serve as a speaker at the Airports Council International World Economic Council in Athens, Greece.

Stone’s May 16-20 trip cost the airport $7,781, according to travel records.

travel mapMeanwhile, the airport’s chief information officer, Al Stanley, made two big international trips last year. In March, he flew to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he was a speaker at the Passenger Terminal Expo, for a total of $5,563.

Stanley was invited to speak there, said Indianapolis Airport Authority spokesman Carlo Bertolini.

In May, Stanley attended an ACI-Airport Management Professionals Accreditation Programme meeting in Brazil. Expenses for the Brazil trip totaled $10,000.

Wells said airport officials could use cheaper alternatives, such as published papers and expertise from consultants, to keep abreast of best practices.

Clark pointed out the airport spent less than 0.3 percent of its operating expenses on travel and related expenses in 2011.

“However, it is committed to improving its efficiencies at every opportunity and to scrutinizing the [return on investment] on all of its expenses, including travel,” he wrote.

Technically, money spent on airport executives’ air travel does not come from tax dollars. Clark said travel expenses are funded entirely by revenue from airlines, which comes in the form of landing fees and space rentals.

Airlines “have praised the IAA for its fiscal management and commitment to lowering airline costs even as they are increasing at many airports, and by non-airline revenues the IAA generates.”

Yet Mansfield likens travel spending at the municipal entity to the type one might find at a private corporation, which she noted it is not.

“They need to act accordingly, in a financially prudent manner. I am just not seeing it,” she said.

‘Evaluating all aspects’

Asked whether Ballard is concerned about airport officials’ travel spending, the mayor’s communications director, Marc Lotter, said the new board president’s job is to take a deeper look at “one of the region’s prime economic development assets.”

Lotter added that Wells “is currently evaluating all aspects of airport operations, including spending. Mayor Ballard believes it is very important that Mike and the board be given adequate time to get a full picture of the airport’s performance before making specific improvement recommendations.”

Former board president Stayton could not be reached for comment.

Upon his resignation in December, Stayton told WXIN-TV Channel 59 that he had reviewed Clark’s travel records personally and had no problem with them.

Stayton is CEO of the utility-locating service US Infrastructure Corp. Previously, he was chief of staff and chief operating officer of the United Nations World Food Programme.

Clark was known for extensive on-the-job travel even before he touched down in Indianapolis.

While in Jacksonville, he flew to ACI conferences in Brussels, Buenos Aires, Frankfort and Paris. A trip to Shanghai cost $11,300, reported Folio Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Jacksonville.

Randall Tobias, the airport authority president at the time, said then that Indianapolis airport officials had thoroughly vetted Clark. Jacksonville leaders refuted published claims of wild spending reported by the newspaper, Tobias said.

Tobias, former CEO of Eli Lilly and Co., praised Clark’s broad international aviation experience and his record of success increasing non-airline revenue.

He said at the time that Clark was just the man for Indianapolis amid recession and a decrease in air travel.

Growing revenue and reducing expenses is especially important as the airport now shoulders a roughly $40 million annual debt load for its new $1.1 billion Weir Cook Terminal and related airfield improvements.

One of Clark’s key initiatives has been to engage Marion County and Hendricks County officials in an airport-centric development theme. He envisions further development of aviation, logistics, manufacturing and other businesses radiating from the airport.

A study released last year by a consulting firm estimated that Indianapolis airport-owned land could generate up to $63 million in revenue for the airport by 2040.

Clark has a strong financial incentive to find ways to increase revenue and curb expenses. He has a base salary of $270,000 and can earn 30 percent more—an additional $81,000 a year—if he meets terms of a management incentive agreement.

Domestic trips

Most of the trips airport executives took last year were within the United States and Canada.

Some were to airport conferences, others to meet with the FAA about air traffic plans for the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. Some jaunts to Washington, D.C., were to favorably influence federal legislation that affected the airport.

Or, as in CFO Stone’s case, she flew to New York to make a presentation to analysts about the airport’s financial picture. Another trip involved a visit to the headquarters of JetBlue, which the airport has been trying to woo.

Some trips weren’t so cut-and-dry.

Last March, Clark attended something his expense report describes as “Boot Camp,” March 15-20 in Phoenix. Travel and lodging at the Boulders Resort totaled $1,533.

Clark spent another $909 in golf fees that were reimbursed.

The agenda? The trip is an annual tradition for Indianapolis power brokers, including Mark Miles, head of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, who talked with Clark about light rail, according to Clark’s travel records.

Clark was invited to the resort because he was still relatively new to town and would be able to meet at one time with other Indianapolis business leaders who are heavy users of the airport, said Lou Gerig, a principal of the prominent Indianapolis public relations firm Sease Gerig.

Gerig, who was one of the participants, said the event has been held for 20-some years and that golf is a key part of the activity.

“If business is conducted, it’s not necessarily formal,” Gerig said.•


Clark stepping down as Indianapolis airport CEO

 John Clark

INDIANAPOLIS -  The executive director and CEO of the Indianapolis International Airport is stepping down.
The Indianapolis Airport Authority (IAA) says John D. Clark III "is departing the authority to pursue other interests."

Clark joined the IAA in 2009.

Clark's resignation is effective today. Robert Duncan has been named interim director subject to the approval of the IAA board, which meets Friday, March 23. Duncan will hold that position until the search for Clark's successor has been completed.

The developments come as the IAA considers changes to the panel's travel policy after records showed three top airport officials spent more than $67,000 last year on travel in the U.S. and abroad.

A report found that Clark spent nearly half of the $67,000 on trips that included a $10,000 meeting in Zurich and $8,300 to attend an airport conference in Morocco. Clark says many of the trips were related to his role with the industry's key trade group, Airports Council International.

An investigation by WTHR in 2010 revealed that Clark, who earned $270,000 a year at the time, took 31 business trips in his first 15 months on the job, racking up $45,000 in travel expenses, several of which were submitted months after he traveled.

Our investigation also found when Clark and his CFO took three airline representatives to the Miami Super Bowl, he didn't turn in his expense reports (which included $4,500 for five game tickets) until mid-June. Clark said he was "simply tardy" and "not trying to avoid anything."

Clark also traveled to Kuala Lumpur in the fall of 2009 for the Airport Councils International World Conference and Exhibition. While the conference ran three days, Clark's expense report showed he was gone 11 days. He expensed $2,700 for airfare and $2,295 for lodging but the only itemized receipts deal with $175 to replace a lost cell phone.

Asked if he took any vacation days during that trip, Clark said he wasn't sure, but added there are often meetings before a conference. He also noted travel time and the need to acclimate following a long flight.

After being named airport CEO, Clark hosted four guests at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, for "business development." He expensed $735 for airfare and $2,306.51 for lodging.

WTHR's investigation also found that Clark's subordinate, the CFO, signed off on his expenses.


About the Indianapolis Airport Authority

The Indianapolis Airport Authority (IAA) owns and operates Indiana’s largest airport system.

In addition to Indianapolis International Airport (IND), its facilities include the Downtown Heliport, Eagle Creek Airpark, Hendricks County Airport, Indianapolis Regional Airport, and Metropolitan Airport. IND has received several prestigious awards recognizing it as a leader within its class, including annual Airport Service Quality awards for performance excellence by Airports Council International. IND is the first airport in the U.S. to win LEED® certification for an entire terminal campus, and the airport has won recognition for excellent customer service, concessions programs, and art and architecture.

IND’s economic impact in Central Indiana is more than $3.3 billion annually, and about 10,000 people work at the airport each day. Benefitting from lower-than-average fares, IND serves more than 7 million business and leisure travelers each year and averages 135 daily nonstop flights to 34 destinations. Home of the world's second-largest FedEx Express operation and the nation’s eighth-largest cargo facility, IND is committed to becoming the airport system of choice for both passenger and cargo service. For more information, visit IND’s Facebook page at Indianapolis International Airport and Twitter page at @INDairport.

Source: Indianapolis Airport Authority

Kingfisher Airlines may lose flying license

Ailing Kingfisher Airlines on Monday faced the prospects of its flying license being cancelled and its boss Vijay Mallya had been asked by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to present a clear picture of the cash-strapped private carrier.

The DGCA mulled cancellation of Kingfisher's flying permit after the airline on Monday submitted to it the summer flight schedule with 15 to 16 aircraft as against 28 planes submitted last month.

“The airline not only lacks aircraft, they also lack funds for day-to-day operations. They are failing to meet their flight schedule, causing inconvenience to passengers and also they failed to give salaries to their employees for the past four-five months,” official sources said.

Sources said Kingfisher might be planning a quite shutdown and Mr. Mallya being an ‘accountable' person has been asked to meet the DGCA to present a clear picture.

The whole picture was likely to become clear in few days, the officials said.

The beleaguered airline was served a showcause notice by the DGCA towards the end of February asking why its license should not be suspended as it had made unannounced cancellations.

The 15-day mandatory notice period has already lapsed and they have failed to give a valid reason for curtailment of their flight schedule, most of their explanations are unsatisfactory and they have not given a definite recovery plan, officials said requesting anonymity, adding the airline was now operating only 15 or 16 aircraft.

Facing severe fund crunch, the airline has decided to curtail its overseas flights operations to avoid further losses and also return of a leased aircraft.

According to sources, the airline has planned to suspend its overseas operations from March 25, except Delhi-London, which it is withdrawing from April 9. Also the airline would return its wide body airbus A330-200 aircraft to a lessor in the United Kingdom.

Struggling to stay afloat, around 60 accounts of Kingfisher Airlines have been frozen by the tax authorities for its failure to pay taxes after levying it from the passengers.

Angry over not being paid for four months, airline pilots reported sick, forcing the airline to curtail its scheduled flights.

Mr. Mallya at a meeting with the pilots last Friday said their grievances would be looked into but did not set a timeframe.

He had also said the airline would come out with a crystal clear roadmap for its future in a few days.

Kingfisher has a total debt of about Rs.7,057 crore and accumulated losses of about Rs.6,000 crore.

Earlier this month, global airlines body IATA suspended Kingfisher for not clearing its dues. This was the second time in just over a month that the airline was suspended on the same count from the IATA Clearing House (ICH) through which airlines and related firms settle accounts for services provided by them to other such companies.


Alameda Point’s Seaplane Lagoon Dredging Completed

Northwest Seaplane Lagoon dredge sediment drying area
Sediment sits here to dry out until later in the year before testing and removal.
 Credit Richard Bangert 

Dredging through the night at Alameda Point
Seaplane Lagoon dredging at sundown 
Credit Richard Bangert

The dredging project at Alameda Point’s Seaplane Lagoon reached a major milestone in February 2012. The dredging of the northwest corner has been completed, and the sediment will be allowed to dry out before being tested and hauled away in the fall.

The two-part dredging project that started in early 2011 at the northeast corner was preceded by the removal and replacement of thousands of feet of radium-contaminated storm sewer lines leading to the lagoon.

The dredging of the northwest corner went much quicker than at the northeast corner. This is because the three-acre northwest work area is half the size of the northeast area, and also because the new contractor for the project used a larger dredging rig.  The original dredging contractor did not have their contract renewed after failing to complete the entire dredging part of the project by the arrival of the least terns last April. The April deadline was because the terns feed in the lagoon during nesting season, and dredging is considered a disturbance of an endangered species.

Out of the 75,628 cubic yards of sediment removed from the lagoon at the northeast area, 1,719 cubic yards, or 2%, were hauled to a hazardous waste facility. Eleven cubic yards of that amount were hauled to a low-level radiological waste disposal site. The rest of the sediment is deemed safe enough to reuse as fill material to cover the old landfill at the southwest corner of Alameda Point. It has been hauled to a temporary holding area on the Wildlife Refuge.

The main reason that most of the sediment from the northeast area went from toxic to safe is because the contaminated sediment went down three feet into the floor of the lagoon, but the dredging went to five feet, which essentially diluted everything.  Also, the main contaminants, which included PCBs, cadmium, and pesticides, were not uniformly distributed in the sediment.

At the March Restoration Advisory Board meeting, the Navy said that the northeast drying area that extends westward from the Naval Air Museum is now cleaned up, and that the fence can be removed for that area.
By the time everything is hauled away and the work area demobilized, the entire dredging project will cost the Navy $46 million.

Read more about Alameda Point cleanup and open space issues on the Alameda Point Environmental Report.

Hercules crashsite found on mountain peak: Norwegian military transport plane crashed into the top of Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain.

The Norwegian Hercules military transport aircraft crashed few metres from the top of Kebnekaise. Image by the Norwegian Defence.

The aircraft with a crew of five was participating in the large NATO exercise Cold Response 2012 and was on its way from Evenes in northern Norway to Kiruna in northern Sweden when it went missing last Thursday.

Wreckage was found scattered over a larger area on Saturday on the west side of the peaks of Kebnekaise. The rescue operation was Sunday changed to search for deceased.

A Swedish-led Accident Investigation Commission leads the investigation trying to find out why the top-modern, two-year old Norwegian transport plane crashed. A memorial service took place at Evenes Military Air Base on Sunday where Norway’s King Harald attended together with military staff participating in the exercise Cold Response 2012.

Last independent director on Kingfisher board quits; Mallya to meet aviation regulator today

Mumbai: Kingfisher Airlines chairman Vijay Mallya is expected to meet India's aviation regulator today to submit a revised schedule and to talk about a turnaround plan for the airline, local media reported on Monday.

Kingfisher Airlines was hit with a regulatory challenge after the last of its independent directors quit amid growing concerns about the struggling carrier's survival.

Anil Kumar Ganguly resigned from the company's board of directors due to ill health over the past few months that prevented him attending normal activities, Kingfisher Airlines said on Monday.

The latest resignation comes less than a week after another member, Vijay Amritraj, quit the board of Kingfisher. The company had cited an increase in Mr Amritraj's travel schedule and other commitments for the resignation.

Mr Ganguly's resignation had left Kingfisher without an independent director on its board, which, analysts said, violated the market regulatory norms for listed companies and it would have to bring some independent members on the board at the earliest to ensure its operations are not impacted.

The company has been left with three board members - Vijay Mallya, vice-chairman Subhash Gupte and the carrier's parent chief financial officer Ravi Nedungadi, according to the company website.

Kingfisher, which has a debt of $1.3 billion, is facing near collapse as banks have so far refused to lend it more for day-to-day operation and massive cutback in flights have reduced revenues, leaving the carrier with little cash to pay its employees, airports and tax authorities.

The carrier, controlled by flamboyant liquor baron Vijay Mallya, has almost halved its daily flights from the scheduled 200 after some pilots refused to report for work and a suspension by global industry body IATA from its settlement system restricted bookings through overseas agents.

Kingfisher will have a full recovery plan in place in two to three days that will address its financial issues and restore dozens of flights, Mr Mallya had said on Thursday.

Terrorist tyke? Video showing toddler's airport pat-down goes viral

It’s almost a little too easy to pick on the TSA these days. Not that they’re making it any easier on themselves by patting down a 3-year-old boy with a leg cast.

A YouTube video showing the search has received over 90,000 hits since it was uploaded two days ago and contains scathing commentary from the boy’s father, Matt DuBiel. The boy, who was patted down and swabbed, was not allowed to be physically consoled by any family members in the process. Along with a couple of grandparents, the family was en route to a personal vacation in early 2010 at Chicago’s O’Hare aiport.
DuBiel said he didn’t think to upload the video until he was going through old family videos recently. He told MSNBC

Former Michael Jackson attorneys reach $2.5 million settlement in jet videotaping case

LOS ANGELES — Celebrity attorney Mark Geragos and his partner have settled a lawsuit against the owner of a charter jet company that secretly recorded the men and Michael Jackson as they flew from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara for the pop star to turn himself in on child molestation charges.

The settlement calls for a $2.5 million judgment to be entered against Jeffrey Borer, the owner of now-defunct XtraJet. He attempted to sell the video, which contains no audio, of the flight to media outlets after Jackson’s surrender in November 2003.

Geragos’ attorney has argued that the taping violated the privacy and attorney-client privilege of the lawyers and Jackson.

An appeals court struck down a $20 million judgment that was previously awarded to the attorneys.


Jet-maintenance firm's employees block vehicle access to Air Canada head office

Police keep Air Canada employees and Aveos workers apart during a protest in Montreal on Monday, March 19, 2012.
Photograph by: Phil Carpenter, The Gazette

MONTREAL – A filing Monday for bankruptcy protection by Aveos Fleet Performance Inc. in Quebec Superior Court’s commercial division details catastrophic corporate finances and abysmal relations with its main client, Air Canada.

Aveos alleges the Montreal-based airline has even refused to deliver planes for long-scheduled maintenance.

The request for protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act shows revenues for Aveos and its United States division, Aero Technical U.S. Inc., slumped by $16 million in “less than two calendar months” this year because Air Canada has “reduced, cancelled and deferred maintenance work with Aveos” since the start of 2012.

“The loss of such work has been devastating for Aveos’s financial position,” the request states.

In addition, the company’s finances have been hit by “crushingly high labour costs, rising fuel prices and reduced airline traffic.”

That has made it unable to compete with low-cost aircraft MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) service providers in Latin America, according to the company.

Aveos itself owns Aeroman, a fast-growing MRO facility in El Salvador.

Aveos stated that as of March 9, it had accumulated $60 million in accounts payable, which are bills to be paid.

“Most of" these, the court filing added, "are more than 30 days past due.”

As of September, the filing added, Aveos’s liabilities exceeded the book value of its assets by more than $165 million.

By January, that disparity had shot up to $219.8 million.

As a result, Aveos posted a fourth-quarter loss last year of $48.9 million.

Aveos, which has some 3,000 workers, expelled those who were working from three its sites late Sunday and locked its factory gates in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga, Ont.

Hundreds of employees gathered early Monday at the Montreal facility, next door to Air Canada’s head office, to protest against what their union called “a savage shutdown.”

The lawyer steering the filing by Aveos, Guy Paul Allard of Montreal law firm Fraser Milner, said he could not answer questions about the company’s situation.

Air Canada was expected to issue a statement Monday about how Aveos’s sudden shutdown will affect its already troubled operations.

Vehicle and foot traffic on the main road leading to Air Canada's head office in St. Laurent continued to be blocked before noonhour Monday, as the protesting aircraft-maintenance workers who stationed themselves on Côte Vertu Blvd. W., just west of Highway 13. Vehicles were being allowed to exit, but not to enter.

Police spokesperson Constable Daniel Lacoursière reported "no incidents."

"There's been no change to report," he added at 1:30 p.m.

The protesting employees had been adruptly cast adrift when Aveos padlocked it doors Sunday. They continued to vent anger throughout the morning at what Jean Poirier, a union delegate at Aveos, termed "pure and simple treason" by Air Canada.

At least 200 protesters milled about, causing a considerable traffic tie-up. The size of the crowd started to diminish around the noon hour.

Aveos has about 1,800 employees in Montreal.

There was no word over how long the standoff, which also cut off access to the Aveos facilities, would continue.

Just before 9 a.m., several Air Canada head office employees who tried to walk through the crowd of protesters were turned back. So was a head-office intern.

Some were escorted away by Montreal police who, Lacoursière said, had been called to the scene to maintain order.

The future of 1,800 aerospace jobs and whether the city of Montreal has a role in trying to save them are expected to dominate question period when Montreal city council convenes on Monday afternoon.

Richard Bergeron, leader of the Projet Montréal opposition party on Montreal's city council, arrived at the protest site in mid-morning and expressed support for the Aveos workers.

He said he had filed a motion at council demanding the city sue Air Canada and the federal government, if the Quebec government doesn't do so, for alleged breach of a 1988 contract that required Air Canada to keep fleet-maintenance jobs in Montreal.

"This is a battle that has started," Bergeron declared in a later news release:

"We have to win this for the workers. We have to win this for Montreal."

The aerospace industry accouns for an estimated 47,300 Montreal-area jobs, Bergeron said, and "the region is a world leader in this industry."

Bergeron and opposition leader Louise Harel of Vision Montreal called upon the administration of Mayor Gérald Tremblay to “show leadership” in the wake of the padlocking Sunday afternoon. Aveos did nearly all of its business with Air Canada.

Harel tweeted that “Air Canada cannot play Pontius Pilate” when it came to Aveos, and the city should show leadership in seeking to protect the jobs that appear jeopardised by the plant’s closing.

About 8:30 a.m., Craig Allison, an Aveos interior mechanic and one of those protesting, had said in a phone interview that foot traffic to Air Canada had not until then been impeded:

"Anybody walking is getting through," he said, shortly before that changed.

Allison described the mood of the workers as "pretty sombre."

He started with Air Canada in 2000, and became an Aveos employee when the maintenance firm was split off.

"People aren't getting any answers," he said.

On Sunday, Aveos had instructed its Montreal employees to leave the company premises at 5:30 p.m., and to take their tools and belongings with them.

Workers were advised to contact Aveos for further instructions, several people told The Gazette in emails and voicemails.

Aveos was formerly owned by Air Canada, which still accounts for about 85 per cent of its revenues.

Allison, 50, said he received a call from the company about 6 p.m. Sunday, telling him there was "no work.

"I was told I am on permanent layoff and will be receiving layoff papers during the week."

The Aveos maintenance base in Montreal, near the Air Canada head office, can accommodate "upwards of four (aircraft), depending on how big they are," Allison said.

It has done work on planes as big as the Boeing 777.

The number of aircraft at the base has now been cut to two, Allison said, a now-stripped-down Air Canada Airbus 320 in the middle of a 60-day check and an Air Canada Airbus 330 with "the landing gear off it."

"Other than the landing gear," the latter plane is in shape to fly, he said.

Over the past "24 to 36 months," Allison said, the maintenance base has changed "from a very busy hangar facility to an eerie calm."

James Mennie of The Gazette contributed to this report.

Air Canada repair firm Aveos seeks bankruptcy protection

MONTREAL — The filing for bankruptcy protection by Aveos Fleet Performance Inc. in Quebec Superior Court's commercial division Monday details catastrophic corporate finances and abysmal relations with its main client, Air Canada.

The request for protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act shows revenues for Aveos and its U.S. division, Aero Technical U.S. Inc., slumped by $16 million in "less than two calendar months" this year due to the airline having "reduced, cancelled and deferred maintenance work with Aveos" since the start of 2012.

The airline, Aveos alleges, has even refused to deliver planes for long-scheduled maintenance.

"The loss of such work has been devastating for Aveos's financial position," the request states. Aveos, a former division of Air Canada that was sold off in 2004 during restructuring, relies on Air Canada for about 85 per cent its business.

In addition, the maintenance company's finances have been hit by "crushingly high labour costs, rising fuel prices and reduced airline traffic."

That has made it unable to compete with low-cost aircraft MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) service providers in Latin America, according to the company. Aveos itself owns Aeroman, a fast-growing MRO facility in El Salvador.

The company expelled many of its 3,000 workers from three sites late Sunday and locked the factory gates in Montreal, Winnipeg and Mississauga, Ont. Hundreds of employees protested early Monday at the Montreal facility, next door to Air Canada's head office, against what its union called "a savage shutdown."

Air Canada said in a news release Monday the shutdown of Aveos and its application for insolvency protection was disappointing, but that it doesn't affect the general maintenance of Air Canada's fleet.

"The airline's line maintenance has always been performed directly by Air Canada, at the airline's own facilities by Air Canada's 2,300 maintenance employees. The airline typically performs its line maintenance activities overnight or between flights, as necessary," the release says.

According to Air Canada, Aveos primarily provides maintenance on airframes and engines and the work is generally scheduled in advance.

"The airline is prepared with a contingency plan to ensure continuity of this work and that it will continue to be performed in compliance with all regulatory and legal requirements," the company said.

Air Canada said it has several agreements with "a number" of other companies scattered mostly throughout the United States and Canada who could provide maintenance if necessary.

Aveos stated that as of March 9 it had accumulated $60 million in accounts payable, "most of which are more than 30 days past due."

As of last September, Aveos' liabilities exceeded the book value of its assets by more than $165 million. By January, that disparity had shot up to $219.8 million. As a result, Aveos posted a fourth quarter loss last year of $48.9 million.

— With files from Robert Hiltz, Postmedia News.

Angry workers protest closure of Air Canada maintenance firm in Montreal


MONTREAL - Thousands of former Air Canada maintenance workers are out of a job following the closure of a maintenance firm that was spun off five years ago.

About 200 workers held a rally outside the north-end headquarters of Aveos Fleet Performance Inc., which abruptly shut down on the weekend.

Air Canada, Aveos' primary client, said the maintenance firm filed for insolvency protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act. Some 3,300 people are affected in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Air Canada said it provides its own day-to-day aircraft maintenance and that its operations would not be affected by Aveos' closure.

Aveos union representative Jean Poirier said he had not been informed by the company about the closure, which he called "savage."

"Mothers and fathers will all lose their jobs," he said at the Montreal rally. "It makes no sense."

Media reports about the closure emerged Sunday evening, but some employees said they were only informed when they arrived for work on Monday morning.

One man, who worked at Aveos for 17 years, said he received a call on Sunday evening informing him that he need not show up for work.

Aveos is the former maintenance division of Air Canada that was sold in 2007. The contractor negotiated a separate collective agreement with the former Air Canada workers, a move the union initially contested.

The company provided scheduled fuselage, engine and component maintenance for Air Canada and other airlines. The maintenance contract with Air Canada is set to expire in 2013.

The workers got political support Monday from Liberal critic and Montreal MP Denis Coderre, who used a megaphone to speak to the protesters. He said the Conservative government should get involved.

"I'm pissed off today, that's for sure," said Coderre.

"We're losing jobs by the thousands. Something has to happen. The savage way (workers) have been treated is unacceptable."

Transport Minister Denis Lebel told QMI Agency the federal government would keep its distance.

"We are always concerned when Canadians lose jobs," said Lebel. "That said, it's a business decision made by a private company."


Salem council may add staff at airport: Full-time position would be paid from airport revenue

A recent report by Urban Development Director John Wales suggests current staffing levels at the Salem Airport do not meet the airport's needs. 
Kobbi R. Blair / Statesman Journal

The Salem City Council will consider adding a full-time position at the Salem Airport during tonight's meeting.

In a report to council, Urban Development Director John Wales indicated that current airport staffing levels are not adequate to meet the airport's needs, including Federal Aviation Administration regulations, management of construction projects and support for other council-directed activities.

The city is planning a runway extension to improve the airport's ability to handle larger aircraft — and its attractiveness to business.

The Airport currently operates with four full-time employees — an administrator, an operations manager and two maintenance positions.

The report said similarly sized airports have six to 14 employees handling a comparable number of operations and tenants. At current staffing levels, employees are required to work extra hours to do everything that is needed.

City planners have recommended adding an airport operation specialist position with a projected annual cost of $83,210 in wages and benefits.

If approved by the council, the position will be included in the 2012-13 fiscal budget and funded through airport revenues, primarily income from lease holders.

The proposed addition comes as the city tries to cut costs by $10.5 million during the next four years. The city already has eliminated more than 30 positions this year to make up for the budget shortfall. Many were vacant, but more than 10 came in the form of layoffs.

Salem Police Department has had to cut five sworn officer positions, and Salem Fire Department will reduce hours at Fire Station 11 to make up for the budget shortfall this year.

If you go

What: Salem City Council

When: 6:30 pm. today

Where: Room 240, Salem City Hall, 555 Liberty St. SE

Information: or (503) 588-6255

Watch live: or CCTV Channel 21 on Salem cable.

Watch later: Replays on cable on 9 a.m. Tuesdays, 9 a.m. Fridays and 7 p.m. Sundays. Replays anytime on the website.

Jet Airways discontinues JetLite, merges with Konnect

MUMBAI: As part of a strategic rebranding and restructuring exercise announced last July, the country's largest airline- Jet Airways today said, effective March 25, its low-cost arm JetLite will cease to operate, after being merged with the other no-frills brand JetKonnect.

"Effective March 25, JetLite will cease to operate separately, but will come under the JetKonnect brand, enabling guests to avail of a single superior in-flight product in the full service (Jet Airways) and low-fare categories," group chief commercial officer Sudheer Raghavan said in a statement.

JetLite was created in 2007, following the takeover of Air Sahara in April 2007, and used to contribute nearly three-quarters of the group's domestic revenue, with the rest coming in from JetKonnect. It used to operate with 19 Boeing 737s, connecting 31 domestic destinations, apart from Kathmandu, with 123 flights a day.

JetKonnect was launched in May 2009 as competition increased in the no-frills category.

Jet had revealed the merger plan last July. Announcing the first quarter earnings, group vice-president, commercial strategy and investor relations, KG Vishwanath had said, "The management is very clear that there will be only one brand in the low-fare arena and that is something, which will emerge very clearly in the next one or two months."

Jet Airways and JetLite will continue as distinct business entities operating under their own airline operating permits, Raghavan said, adding "to achieve brand consistency, JetKonnect will be the dedicated low-fare service with a mixed fleet of Boeings and ATRs to operate on the metro, tier II and III routes."

Explaining the rationale behind the merger, Raghavan said, "The launch of JetKonnect is the culmination of a well- coordinated effort and arises from the fact that since its inception in May 2009, JetKonnect has proved to be a successful model. We thought it best to consolidate our product in the low-fare segment with a single brand JetKonnect, for enhanced brand recall."


Pilot crash at Rochester Airport, UK - pilot okay

A plane has crashed as it was landing at the airport

A light aircraft has crashed whilst trying to land at Rochester Airport. The plane ended up on its roof after touching down on the grass strip.

The pilot of the plane managed to walk away from the crash unhurt.

Kelvin Carr manager of the airport said: “The incident happened just after 12pm. A single engine aircraft had an incident on the airfield and the solo occupant has walked away unhurt.

“The Air Accident Investigation Branch will carry out an investigation into the crash.

“They will collect the information and then make a formal report into what happened. The airport was closed but it has now reopened.” 

South African Airways in major pilot skills initiative

South African Airways (SAA) has initiated a global search for a qualified and internationally recognized partner to join it in establishing and running a new flight academy, the SAA Flight Academy, which will ensure focused, expert training for new pilots.

The SAA Flight Academy will recruit students from across South Africa, placing special emphasis on attracting future pilots from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

Besides training future generations of SAA pilots, it will be launched as an international centre of excellence to candidates from other South African, African, and international airlines.

The new SAA Flight Academy will concentrate its efforts on turning out pilots steeped in the ethos, practices, corporate culture and safety disciplines of a major international carrier while making a significant contribution to the transformation of the entire South African airline industry.

The academy will also offer future pilot generations a clear career path within commercial air transport, with the best candidates earning the opportunity to fly as Second Officers alongside SAA's established Captains and First Officers.

“With only 17% of pilots trained since 1994 coming from previously disadvantaged communities, South Africa has not yet made all the progress it needs to in opening this highly skilled area of airline operations to aspiring pilots,” said Siza Mzimela, SAA's CEO. “In order to establish a secure and sustainable talent pipeline of appropriately trained pilots and to further the best transformation interests of the country, the SAA Flight Academy is a highly systematic approach to ensure the production of top-class pilots year on year.”

SAA has issued a tender calling for established flight training institutions to express interest in a long term partnership to establish and manage the training academy. The tender is open to all qualified service providers from South Africa and internationally.

“Key will be the ability of any prospective partner, whether from South Africa or elsewhere, to prove that they have a track record in implementing international best practice in the airline pilot training sector,” said Mzimela. “As is SAA's practice now, the qualification authority will be the Joint Aviation Authority, responsible for setting training standards for civil aviation in Europe.

In contrast to non-scheduled air transport, the international passenger airline industry is highly regulated, with a premium placed on pilot perfection at every moment from the standard pre-flight checks to the post-flight debriefing after engines are turned off at the arrival gate. Traditionally, South African airline pilots have either received their initial training in the air force or at a private flying school, the latter going on to fly smaller general aviation aircraft as charter pilots or junior flying instructors gathering flying experience foran average of seven years before they are eligible to join a scheduled carrier.

“The new system will begin training pilots for their highly responsible roles within airline operations from day one,” said flight academy project leader Jimmy de Beer, himself an SAA Senior Training Captain with 37 years experience. “We will put candidate pilots into SAA's passenger aircraft simulators for 100 hours soon after they have learned the flying basics on the academy's own entry-level aircraft. This will ensure they absorb the entire approach required by a major carrier from the word 'go', without any unnecessary detours,” he explained.

Intrinsic to the training is the development of collaborative analytical, decision and action-taking skills. These are the foundation of the modern cockpit Crew Resource Management techniques that have contributed significantly over the past two decades in making commercial aviation the safest mode of public transport available.

The previous training philosophy, involving a variety of flying in other environments, has often resulted in pilots joining airlines with an air force or charter background first having to unlearn habits and procedures which are unsuited to the passenger air transport environment.

“Experience shows that over 100 hours in an airliner simulator practising every imaginable situation is worth a great deal more than say over 100 hours flying a light cargo plane between municipal airfields,” said de Beer. “Our students will inculcate the internationally benchmarked SAA approach from day one.”

In order to reach the necessary economies of scale, the academy will aim for an intake of 150 to 250 new students annually. As a result of natural attrition and growth, SAA needs approximately 45 new pilots a year. An integrated academy in South Africa will offer significant advantages: excellent flying weather for almost the entire year, comfortable living and working conditions for students pilots at a new, purpose built facility, and the ability to train on state-of-the-art simulators under the tutelage of SAAs' experienced training captains, will all contribute to the mix.

It is expected that the full training cycle from a candidate pilot's first day in the classroom to the first day in the flight deck on a regular flight will take about 3.5 years and cost between R1-million and R2-million. Candidates sponsored by SAA will be required to work for the airline for an agreed number of years, failing which they will be required to buy their way out of the training contract.

“Interestingly, one of the world's biggest airlines, Cathay Pacific, is about to implement a training system very similar to our new approach,” said Mzimela. “Our aim is for the SAA Flying Academy very quickly to become not only a national asset, but in fact an asset for the whole continent.”

SAA plans to select its partner for the academy this year, with the first student intake expected in 2013.


NTSB: Pilot Professionalism by Robert Sumalt

Cheyenne Regional/Jerry Olson Field (KCYS), Wyoming: FAA- Airport violated two grant rules

The investigation dismissed at least eight other Charges against the Airport.

CHEYENNE -- The Federal Aviation Administration has found that Cheyenne Regional Airport violated two and possibly three conditions for getting federal grants.

It also found that the airport did not violate the conditions raised in eight other allegations.

The violations are explained in a March 8 letter that the FAA sent to Cheyenne Mayor Rick Kaysen and Laramie County Commission Chairwoman Gay Woodhouse.

The FAA also sent a 24-page report of the results of its investigation.

The mayor and commission chairwoman received the letter because the city and county are co-sponsors of the airport. The letter requires airport officials to respond to the FAA in 60 days about how they will fix the problems.

The letter does not require the airport to pay back any grant money.

“There is no contemplation to require reimbursement of previous grant funds,” the FAA spokesman Mike Fergus wrote Friday in an email.

The FAA investigated the airport because of a complaint from Sky Harbor Air Services Inc., the former fixed-base operator. An FBO sells fuel and provides other aircraft services.

The FAA’s report focused on 11 allegations from Sky Harbor that said the airport violated terms of its federal grant obligations.

The investigation found two violations. The FAA said there is insufficient evidence to determine a third, which focuses on whether the airport has good title to the landing area as required by the grant.

The FAA found that the airport did not violate eight other allegations raised by Sky Harbor or violate “any remaining grant assurances” in the complaint, the report said.

FAA said that at least one allegation n about the airport not fixing leaks in the ceiling, broken pipes and other problems at the FBO office and not replacing a jet fuel filtern is outside FAA’s area.

“FAA takes allegations of grant assurance violations seriously, and we have therefore conducted a thorough review of the complaint,” compliance officer Joelle Briggs said in the letter.

The FAA investigation found:

Insufficient information as to whether the airport has the required good title to the landing area. The airport must provide a title search to the FAA.

The airport violated grant conditions when it mortgaged airport property in 2005 without required FAA approval.

The airport must ask FAA to approve the 2005 loan. It must give FAA a plan to modify or end the mortgage if the agency doesn’t approve it.

The federal agency wants confirmation that the grant could survive foreclosure.

The airport allowed other maintenance services beside Sky Harbor to provide aircraft maintenance in direct competition with the fixed-base operator.

The airport didn’t require the others to meet the same requirements as Sky Harbor, which is a violation, FAA ruled.

The airport must submit a plan to make sure anyone doing maintenance meets minimum standards.

Woodhouse said Thursday that the violations can be fixed. Steps are under way to do so, she added.

“It’s actually good news for the most part,” she said of the report. “My main concern when I heard about the letter is that there were economic sanctions and that isn’t even suggested.”

Dave Haring, director of aviation at Cheyenne Regional, said the FAA will work with the airport to comply.

The airport has done a lot of work on the title searches already, he said.

The mortgage involves a 2005 bond issue that consolidates the debt from several past projects at the airport into one loan. He wasn’t airport manager then, he said.

The evidence to show illegal maintenance operations comes from photos, he said. They aren’t definitive proof, he added.

“Obviously, anytime you have a concern about compliance, the airport takes it very seriously,” he said.

He said the FAA’s findings are more like housekeeping issues.

This is the second grant violation issue the airport is facing.

In October, the federal Economic Development Administration found that the city and the airport violated conditions of a $650,000 EDA grant.

The agency told the airport it would require repayment of the grant if issues weren’t resolved.

Haring said Friday that he hasn’t heard a final decision on those concerns.

An EDA spokeswoman at Washington, D.C., could not be reached Friday afternoon for more information.