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Mon, Nov 09, 2009

Santa Monica Pier Incident Brings Unwelcome Scrutiny On Jet Warbirds

2008 Buzz Job Cost Pilot His License

After making several low passes over the Santa Monica Pier in November of 2008, pilot David G. Riggs lost his flying priveleges and still faces criminal misdemeanor charges for what turned out to be a publicity stunt for an as-yet-unreleased movie. While Riggs had a court date set for Monday, the incident has prompted the FAA in the region to take a closer look at the private ownership of military aircraft certified in the "Experimental" category.

The Los Angeles Times reports there are approximately 5,600 military aircraft registered as "Experimental" in the U.S., which are limited to air shows, flight demonstrations, and training over sparsely-populated areas. They may not carry passengers unless approved by the FAA.

The aircraft used to buzz the Santa Monica Pier was an Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros, a Soviet Bloc trainer. Riggs and another pilot flying a Canadian-registerd Albatros were involved, but only Riggs was brought up on charges. The other pilot, Skip Holm, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran of more than 350 combat missions for U.S. Air Force with three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He retired a lieutenant colonel in 1992. Riggs, on the other hand, first received a pilots license in 1984, and has multiple convictions for wire fraud, bank fraud and passport fraud.

Two FAA investigators said Riggs continued to sell flights in the L-39 after he lost his license. They also said he did not hold a commercial rating or obtain a waiver to carry paying passengers. FAA inspectors Kevin Sullivan and George Erdel said the L-39 was in disrepair and was being used illegally as a camera platform for movie shoots. 

Sullivan and Erdel, both of whom no longer are employed by the FAA, said their investigation was cut short with no explanation. The FAA, for it's part, says the facts speak for themselves. Los Angeles-based FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told the LA Times "We revoked Mr. Riggs' pilot's license. We also required Mr. Riggs to perform work on his aircraft to make it airworthy and we documented that the work was, in fact, done."

Gregor says the FAA is still "keeping an eye" on Mr. Griggs, who could re-apply for an airman certificate a year following the revocation.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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