Thousands of Private Planes Registered in Texas, But No Airport!

KELLY CARR AND JAIMI DOWDELL, The Boston Globe

At first, he thought the thunderous boom overhead was the sound of an electric transformer exploding; his wife thought it might be an earthquake. But then Asnaldo Del Valle Gonzalez saw the blistering orange flames and suffocating black smoke billowing from his own home, and — inconceivably — an airplane embedded in his roof.

Gonzalez sprinted inside the house where nine members of his family were that April morning in 2008. He found his baby grandson in his crib under a burning mosquito net, but the rising flame and smoke prevented him from rescuing everyone. Gonzalez heard his daughter screaming for help and saw fire enveloping his 6-year-old granddaughter.

The pilot of the plane, a twice-convicted drug trafficker traveling with a large amount of cash, had lost power just after taking off from nearby Simon Bolivar International Airport, spiraling down onto Gonzalez’s house. When the smoke cleared, Gonzalez’s twin daughters, two granddaughters, and all three people on the plane were dead.

Gonzalez had no idea where the plane had come from or why it had crashed. But amid the horrific scene, the registration number on the ruined aircraft — N6463L — held a clue: The plane was from the United States.

The United States remains an easy mark for drug dealers, terrorists and others who prize anonymity when registering aircraft or getting licensed to fly. So much for the lessons of 9/11.

Gonzalez sprinted inside the house where nine members of his family were that April morning in 2008. He found his baby grandson in his crib under a burning mosquito net, but the rising flame and smoke prevented him from rescuing everyone. Gonzalez heard his daughter screaming for help and saw fire enveloping his 6-year-old granddaughter.

As he sought to unspool the story behind the tragedy, Asnaldo Del Valle Gonzalez would come face to face with what he calls “the monster,” the web of secrecy that surrounds thousands of planes like the one that devastated his family, making it nearly impossible to identify a plane’s real owners and hold them accountable.

The pilot of the plane, a twice-convicted drug trafficker traveling with a large amount of cash, had lost power just after taking off from nearby Simon Bolivar International Airport, spiraling down onto Gonzalez’s house. When the smoke cleared, Gonzalez’s twin daughters, two granddaughters, and all three people on the plane were dead.

A Spotlight Team investigation has found that lax oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration, over decades, has made it easy for drug dealers, corrupt politicians, and even people with links to terrorism to register private planes and conceal their identities. With the US stamp of approval — signified by a number on the tail fin that always begins with the letter “N” — owners often find more freedom from scrutiny and anonymity while traveling. This has allowed criminals and foreign government officials to mask illicit activities or keep wealth hidden from their home countries.

The registered owner of the crashed twin-engine Piper, a company called Aircraft Guaranty, is part of a nearly invisible private industry that sometimes operates from computer terminals inside FAA offices in Oklahoma, busily registering planes on behalf of foreign nationals — and working in a system that allows them to hide their names from the public. More than 1,000 planes are registered in Aircraft Guaranty’s name at an address in a Texas town of 2,500 that doesn’t have an airport. But it’s enough to give clients both anonymity and coveted US registration for their planes.

Gonzalez never did figure out who really owned the plane that crashed into his home — even when the name of the client Aircraft Guaranty had on file, Luis Nuñez, was revealed during court proceedings. A court official who visited the listed Miami address for Nuñez found cobwebs on the doorknob and a package addressed to someone else. A private detective working for Gonzalez’s attorneys spent a year searching for additional clues and for Nuñez, before concluding that he was nothing more than a “phantom person.” The Globe also was unable to locate Nuñez.

More than 16 years after aircraft were used as weapons in the worst terrorist attack in US history, the FAA still operates more like a file clerk than a reliable tool for law enforcement, enabling secrecy in the skies here and abroad. The price to register a plane is still just $5 — the same as in 1964, even though the agency has the power to raise it — generating little revenue that could be used to expand oversight. And the FAA does so little vetting of the ownership and use of planes listed in its aircraft registry that two of the airliners hijacked and destroyed on 9/11 were still listed as “active” four years after. And that’s prompt compared to this: The FAA didn’t cancel the registration for one TWA cargo plane until 2016, 57 years after it crashed in Chicago, killing the crew and eight people on the ground.

Today, thousands of planes are registered using practices that can allow for anonymity of ownership. A Spotlight review shows that one out of every six aircraft is registered through trusts, Delaware corporations, or using post office box addresses, techniques commonly used to make it hard to discern the true owner. The number is likely even higher because the FAA acknowledged that it does not verify the validity of documents filed for the registry’s more than 300,000 planes.

Critics, including federal investigators who’ve scrutinized the aircraft registry, say it is little more than “a big file cabinet” in which precious little information has been verified, leaving the door open for people with bad intentions to hide behind a US registration.

FAA officials essentially agree. They stress that they have a “robust oversight system” that includes a team of special agents to investigate fraudulent plane ownership, but say they don’t have the resources to determine whether information on US plane registration forms is accurate.

“The FAA is constantly working to strengthen the integrity of Registry information,” according to an FAA statement to the Spotlight Team that came after months of correspondence about the registry’s shortcomings. “The agency is developing a plan to significantly upgrade and modernize the aircraft registration process.”

But that’s no guarantee reforms will come swiftly, if at all. The FAA has a reputation for making change at a snail’s pace even when problems are clearly identified: The agency, for example, still doesn’t put a photo of the pilot on airman’s licenses 13 years after Congress called for it.

“It is like walking through thick glue. They just don’t move very quickly at the FAA, and it’s a chronic problem,” said former North Dakota senator Byron Dorgan, who served as chairman for the Senate aviation panel in 2009 and 2010. “I would have thought after 2001 that we would have made more progress by now with respect to verifying the ownership of aircraft.”

In a town somewhere in Texas there are 1,000 private planes registered. The town does not even have an airport.

At this town in Texas you only need to send $5.00 to have your plane registered.legally. This is happening even at an airport that does not exist.

Some of these owners/pilots reportedly have terrorist connections or are suspected terrorists. The pilots licenses do not have the pilots photo on their license. The license only has a water seal photo of the Wright Brothers.  This editor of blog.jetsettingmagazine.com  asks WHY?

Are we asking for another 9/11 attack by aircraft?

Editor-at-Large, GINA WAGNER.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2017

BLOG.JETSETTINGMAGAZINE.COM  FOR MORE NEWS NOW!

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