Friday, February 14, 2014

Feds charge pilot after finding 180 pounds of marijuana in plane

SALT LAKE CITY — An Idaho man had been flying marijuana around the country for at least four years before his November arrest at Vernal Regional Airport, according to federal prosecutors.

Randall Patrick Watson of Meridian, was arrested Nov. 12 after members of the Uintah Basin Narcotics Strike Force said they found about 180 pounds of marijuana in four duffel bags stowed inside his Cessna 182E Skylane.

Search warrant documents obtained Friday by the Deseret News show that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents had tipped off authorities in Uintah County about a "suspicious aircraft" that was expected to land at airport in Vernal.

A sheriff's deputy spoke with Watson after he landed for a refueling stop, asking him about his flight plans and where he'd flown in from, Vernal police detective Chad Watt wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant.

"Randall's story was vague to the officer," Watt wrote.

A police K-9 was called in and indicated that drugs were present in the plane, court records state.

"Randall Watson was asked if the aircraft contained illegal drugs, and he stated that we would find out soon enough," Watt wrote, adding later that Watson was allowed to call home while he was detained and told his wife he had "been 'smuggling pot' for a while and that he was with the police."

Watson, 56, was charged Feb. 3 in U.S. District Court with conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Charging documents allege that he had been engaged in marijuana trafficking since January 2009.

Investigators in Uintah County don't believe Watson owned the drugs he is accused of transporting. They will not say, however, whom the drugs belonged to, where Watson had been before he arrived in Vernal or where he was supposed to be headed next.

"He was coming from the West Coast, heading east," Assistant Vernal Police Chief Keith Campbell said the day after Watson's arrest.

A spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Agency in Salt Lake City did not return a call Friday seeking additional information about the case. Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah, said she was unable to comment on whether anyone other than Watson is facing charges in Utah or elsewhere.

Watson, if convicted, could receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Federal prosecutors have also asked a judge to turn Watson's plane over to the government.

Watson's first court appearance is set for March 12.

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Federal prosecutors in Utah have charged Randall Patrick Watson, of Meridian, Idaho, with conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Watson was arrested Nov. 12, 2013, after police in Vernal found 180 pounds of marijuana in his plane at Vernal Regional Airport (Uintah County Jail)

Uintah Basin Narcotics Strike Force commander Mike Gledhill opens one of four duffel bags filled with marijuana that authorities found inside a Cessna 182 Skylane after it landed Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at the Vernal Regional Airport. The drugs were discovered when investigators called in a police K-9 to search the plane after receiving a tip from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Police arrested the pilot. (Geoff Liesik, Deseret News)

 Uintah County authorities, acting on a tip from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, searched a Cessna 182 Skylane after it landed Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at the Vernal Regional Airport. A police K-9 alerted to the presence of drugs, according to investigators, and four duffel bags with nearly 200 pounds of marijuana were found inside the plane. Police arrested the pilot. (Geoff Liesik, Deseret News)

 Uintah County authorities, acting on a tip from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, searched a Cessna 182 Skylane after it landed Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, at the Vernal Regional Airport. A police K-9 alerted to the presence of drugs, according to investigators, and four duffel bags with nearly 200 pounds of marijuana were found inside the plane. Police arrested the pilot. (Geoff Liesik, Deseret News)

Former Foothills Regional Airport (KMRN) manager's wife will keep house, 1 vehicle

MORGANTON, NC — The wife of Alex Nelson will keep the couple’s home in Lenoir and a vehicle after she and the federal government agreed to settle her claim to property the FBI seized in June 2012.

Alex Nelson is the former manager of Foothills Regional Airport. He pleaded guilty in September 2012 to conspiracy, embezzling and money laundering and faces a maximum sentence of 35 years. He is scheduled to have a sentencing hearing Feb. 25 in Asheville.

The FBI seized a Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Corvette, Sun Tracker pontoon boat and put a lien against the couple’s home in June 2012.

Tammy Nelson claimed money she had earned or received paid for the Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Corvette, Sun Tracker pontoon boat, a swimming pool and improvements to the couple’s home.

According to an order Feb. 10, the government and Tammy Nelson consented to a settlement that gives Tammy Nelson the home and the 2006 Ford Expedition. The home has an estimated gross value of $164,000 before payoff of substantial liens and the vehicle has a gross value of $6,075, according to government documents.

The settlement came after both parties said they wanted to avoid further costly litigation about property that has equity of less than $100,000, an order on the settlement said.

The order said the federal government agrees the properties were purchased prior to the crimes it says were committed and improvements to the home were made with co-mingled money.

The federal government gets the Sun Tracker pontoon boat, which is valued at $16,805 and the 2001 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, valued at $16,950, according to the order.

The government will sell off the property to use toward Alex Nelson’s restitution imposed by the courts.

The two parties agree not to litigate against each other.

The FBI raided the airport in June 2012, seizing files, records, computers, log books and other information. The warrant included records from the airport involving Nelson, Adkins and Hullette defrauding the airport of at least $100,000.

The warrant also called for seizing any files, records or information related to Hullette Aviation, Burkemont Service Center, RANMAC Inc., Jeffrey Rose, Grady Rose Tree Service, Jimmy “Ron” Gilbert, Gilbert Grading and Construction, Simon Roofing and Parton Lumber.

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Cops: New York man spotlighted plane landing at airport

Associated Press 

MASSENA, N.Y. — State police say they've charged a 49-year-old man with shining a powerful spotlight at a small passenger plane as it was landing at a northern New York airport.

Troopers say the Cape Air flight from Albany was approaching Massena International Airport around 9:15 p.m. Wednesday when a bright light illuminated the cockpit of the twin-engine Cessna 402 with a pilot, co-pilot and four passengers on board.

Police say the light made it difficult to land the plane but the pilot was able to do so safely.

Troopers later charged Michael Euto (YOO'-toh) him with reckless endangerment.

Police say he told them he trained an 18-million candle-power spotlight on the plane from his backyard near the airport to identify lights he saw above the trees.

Euto is free on $10,000 bail. Police didn't know if he has a lawyer.

Pilot shortage may mean higher prices for flyers: Those who rely on regional carriers likely to suffer most

 The pilot shortage could make many already frustrated flyers even angrier by leading to price hikes and entirely new hassles.

Due to a “quintuple storm of factors,” there’s currently a shortage of pilots willing and/or able to work in the U.S., says George Hobica, the founder of . Part of the reason for this shortage is that a rule from the Federal Aviation Administration, which took effect in August, mandated that commercial pilots had at least 1,500 flight hours, up from 250 previously. Also, the industry mandates a retirement age of 65, and many pilots are hitting that age. Plus, pilots now are required to take a 10-hour minimum rest period .

And then there’s the pay issue: Many pilots are unwilling to work for what regional airlines pay them. Salaries start at around $22,000 a year for pilots on regional airlines and even those with five years of experience sometimes only get paid about $35,000 a year. “You can only love flying so much: If you can’t afford to love it, you stop doing it,” says Hobica. He adds that because of low pay like this, some pilots decide to go into the private jet industry where the pay and working conditions can be better. (Those prospects are getting better as demand for private jet travel is increasing: 16% of the wealthiest 1% took a private jet trip in 2013 compared with 13% in 2012, according to research from The Harrison Group). And the major carriers, which pay significantly more (a pilot with five years of experience can make over $100,000) often hire pilots away from the regional carriers. (That too may continue as an estimated 18,000 big-airline pilots are poised to retire in the next decade.)

The results of the pilot shortage can already be seen. Republic Airways announced that it will remove 27 of its 243 planes from service due to the lack of qualified pilots. “The short-term answer is the aviation industry is just going to get smaller,” Bryan Bedford, CEO of Republic Airways Holdings Inc., said in an interview Tuesday. “If a city can’t support a larger-capacity aircraft, then those airplanes will go where they can be supported,” he said. Great Lakes Airlines ended service in a handful of small towns in February and United Continental plans to reduce small-plane flights by its regional airline partners by more than 70% .

So what does this mean for consumers? “It isn’t good news,” says Hobica. “It has to result in higher prices simply because there are fewer seats and demand isn’t going down.” Hobica says that this situation could be assuaged by regional airlines paying more to their pilots, but that too could result in higher prices. “It would eat into the airlines profits and if they don’t eat it, they’ll pass it along to consumers.” But there is a silver lining for some: IBISWorld industry analyst Andy Brennan says that price hikes will likely only impact consumers who use regional airlines. “The average consumer who flies on major routes won’t have to worry about this,” he says.

Flyers can also expect the already annoying flying process to get even more irritating. Hobica says there could be fewer nonstop flights along some routes. “There will be missed vacation time,” he says. “If you’re going to a wedding, you’re not going to get there in time and may have to fly in the day before and pay for a hotel.” Plus, flyers may have to drive to another, farther-away airport to get the flights they want and in some cases they’ll simply have significantly fewer flights to choose from.

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Former Foothills Regional Airport (KMRN) operations manager's bond revoked

MARION, NC — The former operations manager of Foothills Regional Airport who pleaded guilty to embezzlement in September 2012 is being held in the McDowell County Jail. 

The federal government revoked the bond of Brad Adkins after he had a bond revocation hearing Feb. 7. It’s unclear why his bond was revoked because the summons for an order on bond violation report for Adkins is sealed.

Richelle Bailey, a spokeswoman for the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed Adkins, 38, is in the county jail.

Adkins has a sentencing hearing set for 11 a.m. Feb. 25 at the federal courthouse in Asheville. Adkins pleaded guilty to conspiracy and embezzlement and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Alex Nelson, former airport manager, is scheduled to have a sentencing hearing in Asheville on the same day as Adkins. He pleaded guilty in September 2012 to conspiracy, embezzling and money laundering and faces a maximum sentence of 35 years.

No sentencing date has been set for Randy Hullette, former chairman of the board of Foothills Regional Airport, who pleaded guilty to embezzlement and witness tampering Aug. 21. He faces a total maximum sentence of 30 years. No presentence investigation report on Hullette has been filed yet, which is required before sentencing.

The FBI raided the airport in June 2012, seizing files, records, computers, log books and other information. The warrant included records from the airport involving Nelson, Adkins and Hullette defrauding the airport of at least $100,000.

The warrant also called for seizing any files, records or information related to Hullette Aviation, Burkemont Service Center, RANMAC Inc., Jeffrey Rose, Grady Rose Tree Service, Jimmy “Ron” Gilbert, Gilbert Grading and Construction, Simon Roofing and Parton Lumber.


Brad Adkins

Airbus Buys Bank: Aerospace Group Says Move Will Improve Financial Flexibility

The Wall Street Journal 

By  Ruth Bender

Feb. 14, 2014 4:47 a.m. ET

PARIS— Airbus Group said Friday it will acquire a small Munich-based bank as it forges ahead with its project of setting up an in-house bank that will help the aeronautics company secure access to credit.

Airbus Group—formerly known as European Aeronautical Defence & Space Co.--said it reached a deal with Austria's Raiffeisenverband Salzburg to buy Salzburg Muenchen Bank AG, a lender which works with small and medium-size companies and private clients.

Airbus, which didn't disclose financial details of the deal, said it would rename the bank 'Airbus Group Bank' if the acquisition is approved by German authorities. It aims to close the deal "as early as possible" in 2014.

The parent group of the plane maker with the same name first laid out plans to form an in-house bank to protect its own access to credit and that of its customers in 2012, when Europe's financial crisis showed little sign of coming to an end.

Airbus, the commercial aerospace unit of the group, operates in a capital intensive sector. The commercial aviation industry requires more than $100 billion in financing annually for new airplane deliveries.

During the financial crisis that began in 2008, Airbus, its U.S. rival Boeing Co. and other plane makers relied heavily on government-subsidized funding support, known as export-credit financing. But these guarantees have become increasingly controversial and new international rules have curtailed their use.

"In the coming years the whole group can benefit through increased financing flexibility," Airbus finance chief Harald Wilhelm said in a statement.

The European aircraft maker has also had a run-in with the German government, ending talks about Berlin's possible funding of its new A350 passenger jet. Airbus has received billions of euros in preferential loans from European governments to support the development of new jetliner models over the past four decades. This includes a €500 million ($681.8 million) loan from Germany for the A350 four years ago. An agreement on a second loan, for €600 million, remains outstanding because Airbus Group has balked at the terms being imposed by the German government.

Airbus and Boeing are forecasting strong continued demand from airlines for new aircraft as growth in passenger traffic, particularly in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, rises inexorably.

Airbus's latest forecast is for airlines in the Asian-Pacific region to buy planes valued at $1.8 trillion industrywide over the next 20 years. That view was close to the $1.9 trillion estimate from Boeing Co.

Asian-Pacific airlines will need 10,940 new planes in the next 20 years, Airbus said, 4,100 of which will be widebody jets that typically carry 300-500 passengers. Boeing expects the region to take 12,820 jets. 


Illegal Drones Dare Federal Aviation Administration to Stop Filming ‘Wolf’ to Bulls

By Alan Levin Feb 14, 2014 12:00 AM ET 

It came from the sky. 

One moment, Eileen Peskoff was enjoying a hot dog after running with the bulls at a Petersburg, Virginia, racetrack. Then she was on her back, knocked down when a 4-foot drone filming the event in August lost control and dove into the grandstands where she was sitting. 

“You sign up for something called running the bulls, you think the only thing you’ll get hurt by is a 1,200-pound bull, not a drone,” Peskoff said in an interview. 

Drones flown for a business purpose, like the one that left Peskoff and two friends with bruises, are prohibited in the U.S. That hasn’t stopped an invasion of flights far beyond the policing ability of the Federal Aviation Administration, which since 2007 hasn’t permitted commercial drones in the U.S. while it labors to write rules to allow them. 

Drones have nonetheless been used to film scenes in the Martin Scorsese-directed movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” and sporting events for Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ESPN. They’ve inspected oilfield equipment, mapped agricultural land and photographed homes and neighborhoods for real estate marketing, according to industry officials, company websites and videos on the Internet. 

All such flights in the U.S. are outside the rules. While the FAA hasn’t ruled out granting commercial-use permits under limited circumstances, it has so far only allowed operations in the Arctic.

Ignorance, Avoidance   

Some operators plead ignorance of the rules. Some say their flying is legal under exemptions for hobbyists. Using drones is so lucrative for Hollywood that they’re flown knowing they’re illegal, said one operator who declined to be identified. 

The FAA is aware the number of flights is increasing and tells users to stop when it learns about them, it said in an e-mailed response to questions. The agency said it’s considering new guidance on what’s permitted. 

For every time the FAA orders an operator to stand down -- as it did after a Michigan florist did a test delivery by drone Feb. 8, and in January with Lakemaid Beer, which posted a video online proposing 12-pack deliveries to Minnesota ice fishermen - - untold others fly below the radar, said Patrick Egan, a Sacramento, California-based author and producer of an annual unmanned aircraft expo in San Francisco

Small drones available on the Internet or at hobby stores for less than $1,000 -- some equipped with high-definition cameras like those made by San Mateo, California-based GoPro Inc. -- are flooding the U.S. and being used by tens of thousands of people, whether legal or not, Egan said. 

Airliners, Drones 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation opened an investigation on March 4 after pilots on an Alitalia SpA Boeing Co. (BA) 777 nearing New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport spotted a multirotor copter that came within about 200 feet (61 meters). 

At least six other pilots, including a crew on another airliner, have reported close calls since September 2011 with what they believed were small unmanned aircraft like those favored by hobbyists, cinematographers and other businesses, according to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, which logs safety issues. 

While the government needs to do more to control the growth in drones, it has been “swamped” by political cross-currents and budget cuts that have made it difficult to craft rules, Doug Davis, who ran the FAA’s unmanned aircraft office in the mid-2000s, said in an interview. 

‘No Way’   

As airline pilot unions call for strict standards on the qualifications of drone operators, industry advocates including Egan say the standards should be eased. Lawmakers such as Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who said protesters flew toy drones outside her house last year, have pressed the FAA to add privacy requirements as it crafts safety rules. 

“The FAA is going to have to step up the enforcement of people who use these things,” Sean Cassidy, national safety coordinator for the Air Line Pilots Association, said in an interview. ALPA is the largest pilots union in North America

The FAA conducted 17 enforcement actions for illegal drone use in the 13 months that ended in July 2013, according to agency data that doesn’t include informal steps like phone calls. It has issued one fine, which is being contested. 

The FAA, set up to enforce manned aviation, doesn’t have the resources to enforce existing rules on a new form of flying that isn’t tied to airports and requires so little training almost anyone can do it, Davis said. 

“The reality is there is no way to patrol it,” Davis said. “There’s just no way.”

Scorsese’s ‘Wolf’  

Some businesses flying drones make little attempt to hide what they’re doing. 

Freefly Cinema, an aerial photography company in Los Angeles and Seattle, has photos on its website of helicopter drones it says it flew to film scenes for “The Wolf of Wall Street” and a commercial for Honda Motor Co. (7267)
Tabb Firchau of Freefly declined to comment in an e-mail. Rebecca Cook at the public relations company 42West LLC, which represents Scorsese, didn’t respond to e-mails requesting a comment. 

A Freefly drone shot footage for a documentary about the U.S. Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that aired on most Public Broadcasting Service stations in the U.S. in November, the filmmaker, Jake Boritt, said in an interview. 

Boritt said he got permission to film from the U.S. National Park Service. “It’s not something that we did a whole lot of research into,” Boritt said. 

The park service, which controls access to the Gettysburg site and not the airspace, didn’t check with FAA about aviation regulations, Katie Lawhon, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. 

Worth It   

While ESPN hasn’t used drones to film events, some independent production companies supplying video to the network have, Josh Krulewitz, a spokesman, said in an e-mail. ESPN is telling production companies it works with to comply with regulations, Krulewitz said. He didn’t specify events at which drones were used. 

For Hollywood, the benefits of using drones are worth the miniscule risk of being caught, said an operator who films scenes for TV shows and commercials. He asked to be unidentified because the practice isn’t permitted. 

An unmanned aircraft system costing a few thousand dollars or less can replace dollies, booms and stabilization equipment costing tens of thousands, this operator said. 

Surf’s Up 

Eric Sterman, of Haleiwa, Hawaii, on Oahu’s North Shore, created a stir this year in the surfing world with a series of drone-shot videos of some of the world’s best surfers. 

Sterman’s videos show wave riding at Oahu’s Banzai Pipeline and Maui’s Pe’ahi Jaws, filmed by a remote-controlled copter that floats above the waves. In one, filmed this year, his drone hovered next to a piloted helicopter also filming. 

Sterman said in an e-mail he didn’t go near the helicopter. “I’m just having fun filming as a hobby and sharing it with friends and followers,” he said. Sterman, who lists a professional photo agency on his page, said he wasn’t paid for any of his drone video work. 

Flying model aircraft is permitted provided it’s for recreation only, the FAA said in a written response to questions. In a 1981 advisory, the FAA said these unmanned aircraft should be flown no higher than 400 feet and away from populated areas. It also said they shouldn’t be flown near planes and helicopters, and that operators can’t use the hobbyist exemption to fly commercially. 

‘High Concern’   

Flying a drone next to a helicopter violates safety protocols, Matthew Zuccaro, president of Helicopter Association International, an Alexandria, Virginia-based trade group, said in an interview. 

“We have a very high concern that there are people operating unmanned vehicles without our knowledge and without communications,” Zuccaro said. 

Asked by the Australian surfing publication about the regulations, Sterman said, “I know you can fly them as a hobby. But no, I really don’t know the rules at all,” according to a Jan. 15 story.
The drone that hit Eileen Peskoff and two friends, Brad Fillius and Patrick Lewis, on Aug. 24 is owned by Scott Hansen, a Virginia Beach filmmaker. 

Hansen was hired to produce aerial views of the event for a promotional video, Rob Dickens, chief operating officer of The Great Bull Run LLC, said in an interview. 

The drone was operated by an employee of a local hobby shop, according to the FAA. Hansen wasn’t at the event, Dickens said.

Quad-Copter, GoPro  

Peskoff said Hansen told her some of the batteries died. He wrote her a check for her medical bills afterward, Peskoff said. Hansen didn’t return three phone messages left at his production company, Digital Thunderdome. 

The FAA said it spoke with the operator and the hobby shop’s owner to explain the rules, and the owner agreed to provide training for customers who purchase model drones. Additional enforcement action is still being considered, the agency said in a statement. 

“It was kind of lucky,” Peskoff said. “The place was filled with young people. It hit three adults instead of a child.” 

Also filming that day was a drone being flown for ESPN’s Kenny Mayne’s Wider World of Sports show, Matt Doyle, executive producer and director of Big Brick Productions in Manchester, New Hampshire, said in an interview.
The production company has used drones to film commercials and feature shows for ESPN, and hasn’t looked into the legal restrictions, Doyle said.
“It seems like everyone and their mother has a quad-copter and a GoPro attached to it,” he said. “It’s not just a production company.”

Vague Rules 

GoPro, which filed for a U.S. initial public offering last week, makes cameras that surfers, skiers and sky divers use to record their exploits. Katie Kilbride, a spokeswoman, said the company declined to comment on drone operations and safety. 

Drone advocates like Egan and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an Arlington, Virginia-based trade group, said the FAA’s drone standards are vague and helped lead to the explosion of users pushing the envelope. 

“AUVSI is certainly concerned that the longer FAA takes to write the safety rules for small unmanned aircraft, the more difficult it will become to regulate this industry,” Ben Gielow, general counsel of the group, said in an interview.

‘Careless, Reckless’   

The FAA had planned to propose rules by 2011 allowing commercial flights with drones weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms). The agency now doesn’t expect to unveil the proposal until November. 

The agency also isn’t expected to meet a Congress-imposed deadline to craft rules for safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the nation’s airspace by 2015, the Transportation Department’s inspector general said in a report Feb. 5. 

Even without those regulations, the FAA says it has the authority to prohibit commercial unmanned aircraft operations and “careless or reckless” flights by drones, which it calls unmanned aerial systems or UAS. 

On Feb. 12, for example, an FAA inspector called Wesley Berry, chief executive officer of Flower Delivery Express LLC in Commerce, Michigan, after the company posted a video showing a drone delivering flowers to a home, Berry said in an interview. The tests, which showed the technology wasn’t ready for routine deliveries, were shut down, Berry said.

‘Genie Out’   

“We are concerned about any UAS operation that poses a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground,” the agency said in a statement. 

After the agency fined a Swiss man $10,000 for flying a drone over a Virginia university in 2011, the only fine the FAA has issued, his lawyer argued there were no regulations that applied. An administrative law judge hasn’t ruled on the appeal. 

The number of civilian unmanned aircraft will reach 175,000 by 2035, most of them smaller models, a report by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Volpe National Transportation Systems Center found. Many such aircraft, such as the DJI Phantom 2, are already on the market. 

“All of these people are out there flying trying to make a buck,” Egan said. “The genie is definitely out of the bottle.” 

To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at

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