Operator Didn't Have "Part 135" Air Taxi And Commuter
Ah, to be in Hawaii. The sun, the ocean, the hula girls - and
those fabulous air tours.
Not so fast. The FAA is
seeking a $50,000 civil penalty against Tora Flight Adventures, aka
Tora Flight Adventure Club, Rainbow Connections, and Hawaii Sky
Tours, reported the Honolulu Advertiser.
The notice of proposed civil penalty that alleges the company
ran air tours from 2003 to April 2006 that required Part 135
certification was issued April 6, 2007. The company is permitted to
appeal the proposed fine.
Company owner John Weiser, former owner of KUMU radio on Oahu,
was unavailable for comment.
Although it is not clear whether Tora Flight Adventures is still
operating, spokesman for the FAA's Western-Pacific Region Ian
Gregor said, "To our knowledge, Tora has stopped operating as a
According to a story on Slack and Davis's Web site, a
Texas-based legal firm whose practice includes aviation law,
commercial and general aviation crashes, business and general
aviation contracts, and personal injury law, Panda Ranch, where
many Tora tour go, is a private Molokai residence that has an
address near Honolulu International Airport.
Sources on Molokai named John Weiser as the owner of both the
company and the large agricultural lot at Papohaku Ranchlands on
Molokai's West End where the grassy airstrip is located.
The company apparently caters to visitors from Japan; tourists
are picked up in Honolulu, flown to the West End and then driven
around the island before being flown back to Oahu.
Edie Anderson, retired owner of The Molokai Dispatch, a weekly
newspaper on the island, lived on the West End for 19 years and had
contacted the FAA and county authorities on "numerous occasions,"
warning them about what she considered an unsafe operation in her
Anderson gave a list of reasons that had her fearing the worst
of Weiser's tours, including the grassy airstrip far from emergency
services; questionable lighting at the strip even though planes
take off and land at night; and deer on the airstrip.
Anderson said once Weiser's tourists arrive on Molokai, they are
driven around the island in different vehicles, including an
amphibious craft known as a "duck boat" and a white limousine that
has a license plate that reads "Tora 3."'
She said there were often three or four small planes and a
helicopter at the residence. Other private pilots with West End
ties, she added, also use the airstrip to land and take off.
Diane Nichols of the Molokai Visitors Bureau said the Tora
Flight Adventure Club was not a member of the association.
Tora has been under FAA investigation since 2003. On April 25,
2005, the FAA sent a cease operations letter to the company because
it didn't have a Part 135 certificate. Five days later, one of
Tora's planes crashed after takeoff from its private airstrip on
Molokai, injuring four Japanese tourists, as ANN reported.
Some Hawaii air tours operate under Part 91 general aviation
certification, but are restricted to a 25-mile range and must
depart and land from the same point, with no stops in between.
The distance between Honolulu
Airport and Moloki is greater than 25 miles, and the Panda Ranch
flights included a stop, which should have prevented the company
from operating air tours without Part 135 certification, according
to the FAA.
An NTSB report documents correspondence between the FAA's
Honolulu Flight Standards District Office and Tora Flight
Adventures over whether the company was required to have Part 135
The FAA had cited several safety concerns regarding the company,
including no pilot drug-testing program, unsafe aircraft,
passengers flown in a helicopter by an unqualified pilot,
noncompliance with air tour rules that require flotation equipment,
and allegations that company employees were told to ignore Part 135
rules once certification was complete, "to the point of
falsification of records if necessary to show compliance."
The company denied the allegations.
Despite claims by Tora Flight Adventures that it was merely
transporting passengers to Panda Ranch, an NTSB investigator
reported finding numerous mentions of air tours offered by the
company on its Web site and other travel sites.
An unidentified tour agency told the investigator that it
averaged 100 Tora Flight Adventures bookings a month, mostly to
Japanese tourists. A second tour company said it booked 210
passengers for Panda Ranch visits in 2005, the NTSB report