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Press Release

Maintenance Director For Aircraft Company Pleads Guilty To Obstructing FAA And NTSB Investigations

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida

Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that David Esteves (52, Port Richey) today pleaded guilty to obstructing proceedings before a federal agency or department. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.


According to the plea agreement, Esteves was the Director of Maintenance at Avantair, Inc., a now-defunct aircraft fractional ownership company based at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport in Clearwater, Florida. On the morning of July 28, 2012, a Piaggio P.180 Avanti airplane owned and operated by Avantair was taking off from Camarillo, California, en route to San Diego when the plane’s left elevator fell off on the runway. The plane managed to land in San Diego and pick up passengers for a second flight to Henderson, Nevada, during which the captain reported to Avantair headquarters in Clearwater that he was experiencing difficulty controlling the plane. The report was captured on the plane’s Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR).


After landing in Henderson, the missing elevator was discovered, and the nuts and bolts attaching the plane’s right elevator were also found to be unsafely loose. Federal regulations and company policy required that the plane be quarantined pending an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) and Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), which soon arrived to investigate. Before federal investigators were able to inspect the plane, however, Esteves instructed a third-party contractor to remove the loose right elevator and send it back to company headquarters. Esteves also instructed the contractor to power up the plane, knowing that doing so would erase the CVR, including the recording of the flight to Henderson in which the pilot reported problems controlling the plane. These actions were undertaken to obstruct and impede the NTSB’s and FAA’s investigation of the accident and Avantair’s continuing operation of its aircraft in an unsafe condition.


This case was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Eric K. Gerard.

Updated March 31, 2017