Jury finds Webster aviation company liable for violating FAA regulations

Published 7:22 am Tuesday, June 29, 2021

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HOUSTON – Ascent Aviation Solutions LLC and its owner have been ordered to pay nearly $240,000 in penalties for violating safety regulations, announced acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Michael King had been operating the Webster-based company 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 they meet the requisite requirements.

The jury heard that Ascent used 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.

Authorities learned of the illegal charter operation and checked one of the flights. At that time, they found evidence of a sham lease agreement between themselves and an unsuspecting third party.

That party did not have operational control of the plane. Testimony revealed he only paid Ascent to fly him from one city to another. The jury heard Ascent retained operational control of the aircraft meaning Ascent, not the passenger, handled all flight logistics including hiring the pilots.

Further investigation revealed King and Ascent had operated 14 unregulated charter flights which all had the potential to endanger public safety.

The jury ultimately found King and his company liable for violating 14 FAA regulations, including one for the careless and reckless operation of a plane. They were ordered to pay $239,872.

The FAA conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ariel N. Wiley, Julie Redlinger and Keith Wyatt represented the United States during the proceedings.