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Sat, Aug 13, 2011

FAA Refuses Ultimate Air Racing Championship Airshow Approval

Controversial Racing Program Continues to Demonstrate Inability To Certify Safety Of Program

The Ultimate Air Racing Championships that ANN profiled several weeks ago, featuring some pilots with troubled backgrounds and histories, appears to be stuck in 'idle.' FAA Spokesperson, Ian Gregor, has confirmed that the UARC request for approval of an aggressive multi-plane, multi-obstacle, air racing platform could not be proven to be safe enough to meet the FAA's required standards. "First and foremost, we need to insure a safe event... we put eight inspectors on this, very experienced people, and we have been unable to approve their plan for a scheduled  race in Camarillo, California. We have worked hard on this program and given it our best effort... but safety has to come first."

From the start, the UARC program presented a number of self-imposed obstacles that created instant suspicion and concern. An early press release claimed that the event already had FAA approval and that the races would be conducted by seven of the best pilots in the world...

None of that was found to be true... and that is but a few of the issues that arose, week after week, as UARC attempted to convince the FAA to approve an exceedingly aggressive air race program that would have as many as 7 aircraft, not all of them with the same capabilities, on a Red Bull style course, with a number of those aircraft expected to attempt to pass each other to get through a number of 'gates' in close proximity to one another in the process. It seemed like a pretty risky proposition... and even more so as the facts behind the UARC organization continued to be made known.

More and more of the team's claims were revealed to be false and/or misleading. Early reports from UARC stated that famed aerobatic pilot and industry legend, Corkey Fornof, had been named as a member of the Board of Advisors (and was still posted as such on the web site well after proven false) but in a June 2nd conversation with ANN, Fornof confirmed that he has refused involvement, not once, but twice, due to heavy schedule commitments and his own concerns about the fledgling program.

More errors were found. Two of the few recognizable names on the pilots list have some pretty negative baggage following them. The most notable is David Riggs... who made news (again) last year during sentencing for a well-known buzzing incident in which he was implicated as the L-39 pilot who flew a very low pass over the Santa Monica pier... and created some fairly anti-aviation press reaction. The stunt, which occurred in November 2008, was allegedly an effort to generate "buzz" for a movie. The FAA almost immediately revoked Riggs' pilot certificate, but on March 17th of 2009, an administrative law judge modified that revocation order to a 210 day suspension, and it was eventually reinstated.

Riggs was criminally charged and eventually sentenced by a California Superior Court to 60 days in jail, 36 months probation, and a $900 fine in connection with the incident. He was also ordered to perform 60 days community service cleaning up Santa Monica Beach -- and all of that sentence reportedly still awaits imposition -- and could come at any time. It was not the only legal/criminal altercation for Riggs  -- who has a long history, documented in a number of press reports, of his legal altercations... one of which got him incarcerated in a foreign prison for a year. He has created great enmity among a significant portion of the aviation community... at least one of whom has gone so far as to dedicate a web site to his alleged transgressions (www.aviationcriminal.com).

Riggs cautiously admitted to some problems in his past but insisted that he had become the "FAA's Poster Child for Compliance" since then and that he now enjoys an excellent relationship with the FAA and promises to behave in a manner that promotes aviation in a positive way. None of the FAA personnel consulted over the past few months were willing to confirm those statements.

Chris Rounds was also named as a pilot for UARC and carries some negative baggage in the airshow and the Oshkosh community for his FAA suspension following a 2005 close intercept (while flying the 'Red Knight' T-33) of a Mitsubishi MU-2 turboprop near Wittman field as well as a subsequent bust by the FAA for being aboard an aircraft performing shortly thereafter (while his ticket was still in suspension). The Tullahoma bust was dropped and the FAA eventually declined to prosecute that incident (though the Oshkosh suspension stood until the allotted time expired) but his $2 million dollar suit against Airshow Performer Julie Clark (for the letter she wrote, reportedly at the request of the authorities, to describe what she saw in Tullahoma), has rubbed many in the airshow community the wrong way and created a significant negative backlash where Rounds is concerned.

Rounds claims that the negativity is unjust, in that the Oshkosh incident was improperly adjudicated and that the report of his intercept of the MU-2 is "a lie." Rounds is wary of the attention created by these circumstances and vehemently claims that he is the victim of misrepresentations -- and that he was wronged by the MU-2 pilot, the FAA, the NTSB Law Judge, many others in the airshow biz and Performer Julie Clark.

"I've done, and am doing, a lot of good things in my life and nobody wants to remember those..." says Rounds.

In the meantime, the rest of the team appears to have had but one somewhat nondescript practice session in the last year, and assertions to the media (mostly local South California press) of extensive experience, practice and skills on the part of the team have been unverifiable.

At this point, the UARC races are a no-go... though the FAA has offered to work with UARC to put together a demonstration flight program that would NOT be the races claimed by UARC and would require supervised demonstrations before the appropriate FAA personnel could consent... With the Camarillo Airshow (which was to be the team's debut event) a week away (August 20-21), little time remains for the team to prove the far less aggressive, non-racing demonstration is both possible as well as their competency to undertake an approved flight profile. In the meantime, ANN must note that there is still an airshow at the Camarillo Airport -- and a pretty solid roster of performers to enjoy... air races notwithstanding.

ANN remains in contact with FAA, airshow industry personnel and air racing experts, who thus far seem to view the UARC program with great concern over what might have happened if such an aggressive and potentially hazardous race had been conducted and an accident resulted... an event which would have the potential to create a tremendous amount of adverse and anti-aviation media attention. We will keep you informed as this matter progresses...

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.aviationcriminal.com, www.uarc.tv, www.airshows.aero


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