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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Texas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 16, 2019

U.S. Government Files Suit Against Webster Aviation Company

HOUSTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas has filed a civil penalty action against Michael D. King and his solely owned company, Ascent Aviation Solutions LLC, based in Webster, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

The suit seeks $154,000 in penalties against King and Ascent, alleging King has been operating Ascent as a direct air carrier without the necessary Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification. A direct air carrier is one who provides, or offers to provide, air transportation and who maintains control over the operational functions performed in providing the transportation. In order to operate as a direct air carrier, one must hold an FAA-issued certificate after demonstrating one meets the requisite requirements.

The complaint alleges Ascent uses what is known in the industry as a “dry lease” to circumvent the FAA requirements for direct air carriers. Under such lease, the lessee simply leases the equipment and is responsible for all aspects of operational control of the plane. The complaint alleges Ascent entered into a dry lease with a passenger who took at least 14 trips with Ascent.

The passenger did not have operational control of the plane, according to the complaint. He allegedly only paid Ascent to fly him from one city to another.   The charges allege Ascent retained operational control of the aircraft – meaning Ascent, not the passenger, handled all flight logistics including hiring the pilots. 

The complaint alleges pilots had not passed the competency checks or instrument proficiency checks required under the FAA regulations governing direct air carriers.

“Air safety and integrity in our system is important. When operators in any industry evade regulations by naming or classifying an act as something else, we will hold them accountable,” said Patrick. AAs a licensed pilot myself, I know firsthand the training and education required to operate in the air transport industry. This action ensures passengers are protected when they seek private charter travel and companies compete in a fair manner.”

The FAA conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Zingaro is handling the case.

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Updated May 16, 2019