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Fri, May 26, 2023

AeroVanti Sued for Alleged Fraud

NFL’s Buccaneers Charter Provider Out of Bounds?

Speaking to the subject of alleged wrongdoing on the part of private aviation membership club AeroVanti, Attorney Ryan C. Wagner of Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s WLG law firm stated: “Based on the information and documentation that was discovered, and continues to be discovered, the activities and misappropriation of funds related to AeroVanti’s Top Gun Membership, are hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme.”

If true, Mr. Wagner’s allegations—which pertain to two separate lawsuits recently filed against Annapolis, Maryland-based AeroVanti—tacitly set forth the worrying possibility that dozens of the private flight provider’s clients have lost as much as $15-million.

The two lawsuits, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, allege AeroVanti solicited prospective clients with the promise of flights aboard Piaggio P.180 Avanti turboprop aircraft priced at a staggeringly low $1,500 per-hour. The lawsuits name AeroVanti founder and CEO Patrick Tormay Britton-Harr, former AeroVanti COO Robert De Pol, Benjamin Ricketts, whose LinkedIn profile names him AeroAvanti’s vice-president of sales, and several companies with ties to AeroVanti.

According to the filings, the lawsuits allege “a calculated and continuing scheme undertaken by Defendant, Britton-Harr, and his network of affiliated companies to sell private aviation memberships and otherwise defraud unsuspecting members out of their money.”

Among the companies Mr. Britton-Harr used were AeroVanti, AeroVanti Aviation, AeroVanti Aircraft, AeroVanti Capital, AeroVanti Maintenance, AeroVanti Hanger-MD, AeroVanti Hangar-FL, AeroVanti Brokerage, and Tombstone Holdings.

Under what were presented as Top Gun memberships, the Plaintiffs were led to believe they were joining together to acquire and recondition two Piaggio P.180 aircraft—N111VR and N290BC—owned by AeroVanti.

Specifically, AeroVanti convinced twenty of its members to ante up $150,000 apiece. The monies were to have purchased, refurbished, and upgraded the two aforementioned P.180 aircraft. In return, each contributing member was to receive one-hundred flight hours at $1,500 per-hour in one of the two planes—both of which would remain the property of AeroVanti.

The lawsuits allege the money, upon being released from escrow and disbursed to AeroVanti, was not applied to paying the leases and completing the acquisitions and refurbishments of the two P.180 aircraft. Rather, AeroVanti allegedly defaulted on the lease payments, compelling lessors to repossess the two aircraft.

According to the filings, five investor groups stand to have lost an aggregate $15-million.

What’s more, AeroVanti allegedly ignored requests for the monies to be refunded.

Counselor Wagner asserted in a written statement: “My clients, in each respective case, were induced to purchase a membership unit in the AeroVanti Top Gun Membership Program, only to then discover that the representations made by AeroVanti, through its agents and network of affiliates and subsidiaries, were nothing more than a mirage, as the funds received by AeroVanti for the Top Gun Membership, specifically the funds received by my clients for their respective Top Gun Memberships were not used to acquire a specified Piaggo P. 180 Avanti Aircraft, each with a designated serial number and tail number, rather the funds were used for an improper purpose, much to the dismay and disbelief of my clients.”

In addition to its inchoate legal woes, AeroVanti is being investigated by the FAA, which suspects the company may be in violation of the provisions of Part 91F, under which it conducts its ostensible member flight operations.

Since autumn 2022, AeroVanti has marketed its services as being conducted under Part 91F of the U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations. Part 91F is free of the stringent regulatory constraints and high pilot training, maintenance tracking, and operational control standards to which Part 135 operators are beholden.

Numerous AeroVanti members have received letters from the Federal Aviation Administration in which the agency connotes suspicion that AeroVanti is not a club, as the company’s literature and leadership purport, and is, in fact, operating illegal charter flights.

The letters read in part:

Our office is writing regarding recent flight operations associated with AeroVanti, LLC (“flights'). Information received by our office indicates that you may have entered into a contract agreement with or have been a passenger aboard an aircraft operated by AeroVanti. We are seeking to confirm that these flights were operated in accordance with the safety regulations that apply to passenger carrying operations for hire.

AeroVanti has signed sponsorship deals by which it has been designated the official private jet provider of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chicago Cubs, and the University of Maryland’s Athletics Department. As part of the lawsuit filing, plaintiffs have requested records of payments made AeroVanti to the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium, and NASCAR.

During its brief history, AeroVanti has amassed a disproportionately large number of complaints.

Mark Lachance, a named plaintiff in one of the nascent lawsuits, stated: “Bernie Madoff could learn a few things from these clowns. If you dangle a few shiny private jets at reasonable prices in front of hard-charging entrepreneurs like us, we will bite every time! I have to give them credit, they put together a helluva scam!!!”

AeroVanti member Darren Rhodes remarked: “They canceled my last two flights. One in March and one in April. Both canceled the day prior to the scheduled departure date. I am now scrambling to find a backup for tomorrow’s trip.”

Mr. Rhodes added: “Prior to these three straight cancellations, I had six flights with no issues. Seems to be getting worse instead of better.”

Mr. Rhodes concluded: “On another note, I had reservations when purchasing time that their business model would even work at their as advertised rate. Seems my intuition was correct.”

The day after the lawsuits filings, Mr. Britton-Harr set forth in an email: “In a continued effort to enhance our membership program, I am pleased to announce that AeroVanti has added 18 aircraft to our fleet through a direct and exclusive relationship with an air carrier partner, which will significantly increase flight availability. In addition to more availability and flexibility, our members will now have access to longer-range flights as well as increased passenger capacity.”

The email contained AeroVanti’s revised hourly rates for Cessna’s Citation CJ4 ($4,000), Gulfstream’s G200 ($5,800), and Bombardier’s Challenger 300 ($7,000).

While terms were not disclosed, 2023 industry-average hourly charter rates for the antecedent aircraft, excluding Federal Excise Tax (FET) and fuel surcharges, play to the tunes of: Cessna’s Citation CJ4 - $8,510; Gulfstream’s G200 - $11,743; Bombardier’s Challenger 300 - $11,288.

The industry-average hourly charter rate for Piaggio’s P.180 Avanti is $6,984. After recently raising its prices by $500-per-hour, AeroVanti currently offers its customers a general P.180 rate of $2,450 per-hour.

On 24 May 2023, Mr. Britton-Harr set forth in a statement presumed germane to the lawsuits newly-filed against AeroVanti: “Since the launch of our program and platform, we understand that our membership is not set up for everyone. We are not an on-demand charter. We are a private membership club. All of our members utilize our aircraft interchangeably. Since our launch, the safety of our members and our crew has always been our top priority, and that will never change. Flight cancellations due to weather, maintenance, availability, or any other scenarios are part of the aviation industry. Unfortunately, there are people who put convenience and personal priorities ahead of safety. That’s something we will never budge on. The collective group led by Mr. Gratziani [a named plaintiff] has been offered to have their memberships bought back. They are very opportunistic. They believe in cancel culture. We just brought on 18 new aircraft. Some people think pressuring employees and threatening employees is the best way for them to get a flight. We are not going to succumb to threats by members. We have a tremendous amount of support. We are continuing to move forward and will not be blindsided by a few toxic individuals.”

FMI: www.aerovanti.com

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