FAA yanks air service licenses

Jul. 26--SOLDOTNA -- Federal officials have revoked a Kenai air charter owner's licenses, listing a string of violations that include falsifying a medical clearance application after a DUI conviction and falsely representing an airplane's maximum allowed takeoff weight in a maintenance record.

Federal Aviation Administration agents served Craig Schweitzer of Mavrik Aire with two revocation letters on Tuesday night, agency spokesman Allen Kenitzer said. The agency concludes in the documents that it had to move fast on the revocation because "an emergency exists related to safety in air commerce."

The rare step blocks Schweitzer from flying and Mavrik from operating its standard charter services, though Kenitzer said Alaska state law allows the company to continue its aerial fishing trips and guiding service.

Two Alaska state troopers and a trooper trainee accompanied two FAA agents to Schweitzer's home to serve the revocation letters, trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said. The FAA had asked for state support, she said.

The letters give Schweitzer notice of the revocation of his pilot's license, his airplane mechanic's license and his operations certificate for Mavrik Aire.

Mavrik Aire issued a written statement on Wednesday, asserting that guided hunting, fishing and viewing trips remain a go. "We are currently working through some issues that the FAA has brought forth, but those issues are aside from the guided fishing and guided bear viewing trips that we provide," it reads.

"The fishing has been great and we assure our clients that Mavrik Aire Guide Service is still fully operational and their reservations are not in jeopardy in any way."

State classification of aerial guide services apparently allows Mavrik to retain part of its business in what otherwise would be a total shutdown, Kenitzer said. He said he was unclear why the state allows the loophole.

Efforts to reach Alaska Wildlife Troopers for explanation late on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Another charter and aerial guide service owner said some fishing and hunting lodge owners fly their clients to outdoor destinations under more lenient FAA Part 91 regulation permits, as opposed to Part 135 permits that regulate charters charging by the hour. Theoretically, a service losing its Part 135 permit could continue operating under Part 91 if it carefully advertised the sale as hunting or fishing with a fly-in service, instead of flights for sale by the hour, said Mark Bell of High Adventure Air Charter in Soldotna.

"There's loopholes being done all around by these lodges," Bell said, speaking of the guide industry in general. "If somebody lost a 135 certificate, I think they could probably carry on their guiding business if they were real careful about how it's advertised." The permit that FAA pulled from Mavrik is a Part 135 operational license.

Mavrik's Web site advertises outings such as a spincasting trip for salmon and trout at a furnished Nushagak tent camp. A week at that camp goes for $4,795. "Please note that pricing includes airfare from Kenai to our Nushagak King Kamp," it says. "(Roundtrip airfare may or may not be included in other companies' packages)."

The emergency revocation order against Mavrik says the state revoked Schweitzer's driver's license for DUI a year ago and he noted that in an application for a medical certificate from a Soldotna doctor authorized as an aviation medical examiner. When the doctor deferred a decision until further review because of the license revocation and a history of alcohol-related incidents, Schweitzer threatened legal action, according to the FAA document. Schweitzer then applied to an Anchorage doctor for the same medical certificate but falsified the date of his last application, the deferred one, the FAA alleges in its documents.

Other alleged violations include inflating an aircraft's takeoff capacity on a maintenance document.

"By falsely stating the useful load in a document on which you knew others would rely, you caused them to overload the aircraft thereby endangering the lives of others and their property," the agency informed Schweitzer.

The agency also alleges that at times Schweitzer acted as a pilot in control and a "check airman," responsible for testing other pilots, without completing the appropriate certification, and that the company failed to keep adequate records of flight times.

A Mavrik-operated de Havilland Otter crashed near McGrath while transporting hunting equipment to a camp in 2004, killing 28-year-old passenger Brandon Crezee of Kenai. The air service made news again last August when a float-quipped Otter it was leasing made an emergency landing on a flat in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, requiring a months-long retrieval effort because the plane could not take off.

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Find reporter Brandon Loomis online at adn.com/contact/bloomis or call him at 1-907-260-5215.

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