FAA report slams American Flyers for falsifying student records


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FAA report rips DuPage flight school
Records falsified to pass students, investigator finds

By Jon Hilkevitch
Tribune transportation reporter
Published November 2, 2003

A DuPage County-based flight school, one of the largest in the country, has falsified training records and issued pilot licenses to students who failed written exams and final cockpit "check rides," according to a Federal Aviation Administration report.

American Flyers Inc., which is headquartered at DuPage Airport in West Chicago and has 14 other facilities nationwide, "abuses its authority and constitutes an immediate threat to the public health and safety," said the FAA's report.

The report, obtained by the Tribune, was written by a local inspector. The FAA regional office is reviewing the investigation, which is still considered open.

The flight school, which is contesting the FAA's findings, denied any violations that would compromise safety.

The FAA report alleged more than 50 violations involving students awarded private pilot licenses or commercial pilot licenses at American Flyers schools at DuPage and Palwaukee Municipal Airport in Wheeling, as well as in Ft. Worth and Addison, Texas; Morristown, N.J.; and Islip and White Plains in N.Y.

The findings raise questions about the oversight of flight schools, which are producing a growing number of the nation's airline pilots.

Until the downsizing of the military, 70 percent of airline pilots came from the armed forces and 30 percent from general aviation.

The numbers are now reversed. And the FAA, concentrating most of its resources on monitoring safety in the airline industry, has cut back its oversight of general aviation.

The FAA investigation of American Flyers identified former personnel at the school who signed statements saying "they have direct experience in seeing ... the manipulating of scores of those taking and failing knowledge tests."

Donald Harrington, American Flyers chairman, said the company may be responsible for paperwork violations. But he blamed the company's problems on "an overzealous, rogue FAA inspector."

"I am not going to say some of his allegations were not accurate. We are not perfect, and we did not do all of our paperwork perfectly," said Harrington, who is principal owner of the school, established more than 60 years ago.

"But it's totally impossible to change a failing grade to a passing grade," Harrington said.

"It just didn't happen. Our personnel have no vested interest in cheating."

No terrorism links

The investigation did not focus on possible terrorism links and uncovered none, an official said.

The FAA probe alleged American Flyers provided incomplete training to clients, manipulated records and allowed ill-prepared students to pass flight exams.

American Flyers is one of a limited number of schools permitted to give its students exams, an authority granted in the early 1990s.

Allowing a school to train, test and issue pilot licenses, officially called airman certificates, has raised conflict of interest concerns by some.

Students who go to schools without that authority are tested by FAA examiners or independent pilot examiners.

The FAA report gives several detailed descriptions of how the school allegedly advanced unqualified student pilots.

A 40-year-old female flight student from Homewood received a private pilot license from American Flyers on Feb. 17, 2002, even though the school's assistant chief instructor who gave the test found the student's performance unsatisfactory, the FAA report said.

Before the test, David Huser, American Flyers' vice president, instructed the school's assistant chief instructor to pass the student "regardless of the outcome," according to the FAA probe.

The student failed the test. But the instructor did as told and passed her, according to the FAA investigation, which was based on statements of American Flyers employees and students, as well as documents.

A source at the school said American Flyers' officials feared the woman would stop paying for lessons if she failed.

"She was getting frustrated over her lack of progress in getting her private [license] and threatened to pull out of the school," the source said.

Asked about the student's case Friday, Huser said: "I wouldn't have any comment on that. There is no allegation to that effect that has been brought to my attention or the company's attention."

No attendance records

In some cases, American Flyers students were given credit for courses for which no attendance records existed, according to the investigation.

At the American Flyers' facility in Houston, there was no record that 30 students who took written tests attended required courses, the FAA found.

A similar failure to document required coursework for 23 students was found at the school's DuPage center, the report said. "Issuing airmen certificates after incomplete training calls into question the entire educational and evaluation process," the report said. "American Flyers has, essentially, a cash-for-license system."

During the summer of 2002, American Flyers graduated six flight instructor applicants, although their training records show they did not complete course requirements, the FAA report said.

In at least some cases, the students were not aware of the irregularities until being contacted by the FAA.

"My particular class was awesome, though I saw other people who were not as happy," said Scott Lystrup of Altoona, Wis.

Lystrup, 39, a lobster wholesaler, said he is not flying or instructing full time now.

Lystrup said he first learned about problems with his training at American Flyers after he received the second of two instructor ratings from the school and the FAA contacted him asking for a copy of his logbook.

"Obviously I was very concerned because the FAA inspector said he was checking into discrepancies," Lystrup said, adding he didn't hear again from the FAA.

The FAA's flight standards district office at DuPage Airport conducted the investigation. The FAA's regional office is now reviewing it.

"This is an open review, which means final decisions have not been made," said FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory.

Possible action against American Flyers includes fines, elimination of the school's in-house testing authority, or even revocation of its operating licenses.

The inspector general's office in the U.S. Department of Transportation has entered the American Flyers investigation, in part to ensure the FAA probe remains on track, according to a source.

Designated pilot examiners who tested American Flyers students cooperated with the FAA investigation.

"All of us out here have been providing example after example to the FAA investigators," said an examiner who requested anonymity.

"We got into this because the quality of American Flyers applicants has been poor."

Another examiner said school officials summoned examiners to a meeting and "screamed bloody murder about us being unfair. But the reality is that a lot of American Flyers students, who pay premium prices, come out of there thinking, `I am just great.' If you have someone who is bad and doesn't know they are bad--like an inability to deal with wind or poor skills flying instrument [landing] approaches--they generate a whole new series of problems for everyone else."

After learning of the investigation, American Flyers complained to FAA headquarters.

"We went to Washington and asked some friends at the FAA to intervene on our side," Harrington said.

He said he made the request because the FAA inspector overseeing the school was not treating the school fairly and was citing it for unwarranted violations.

At American Flyers' request, the FAA took the inspector, Denis Caravella, off the investigation in August after nine months of work and appointed another inspector.

The move came only weeks after Luanne Wills-Merrell, manager of the FAA's DuPage office, wrote to Harrington on July 25: "This office has received information which leads us to believe that knowledge testing and practical testing conducted by American Flyers Inc. ... may have been compromised."

Integrity concerns cited

David Hanley, who directs the FAA's flight standards offices in the Great Lakes region, wrote to Harrington a week earlier citing "ongoing concerns about the integrity of your written testing process."

Many of the cases the FAA investigated involved people working toward flight instructor ratings that would enable them to teach beginners to fly.

Other American Flyers students were working toward their advanced pilot licenses in the hope of landing jobs with airlines or corporations that operate a fleet of planes.

On July 22, 2002, Senga A. Butts of River Forest received a commercial pilot license from the flight school's Palwaukee facility in Wheeling.

He received the license despite a finding by an assistant chief instructor that his performance was unsatisfactory, the investigation found.

The instructor's logbook contained the comment "no way" in describing Butts' failing performance, according to the report.

The FAA review uncovered the situation and Butts, then 27, received additional instruction.

He eventually earned his commercial pilot license.

"I was eventually found to be proficient, but the FAA wanted me retested because the wrong person signed my logbook," he said.

Butts said the foul-up caused him to undergo unnecessary stress and he blamed American Flyers.

"I thought the training I received from American Flyers was good, but the school really dropped the ball with the paperwork they messed up on," he said.

"When it came for them to find my records, they miraculously disappeared."

Some independent flight examiners said allowing a flight school to test its own students creates a conflict of interest.

"There is obviously an inside interest when a staff member administers the test," said E. Allan Englehardt, a designated pilot examiner and a Boeing 777 captain for United Airlines.

Harrington said his school is one of the few approved by the FAA to examine its students.

"It's uncommon because you have to earn it by maintaining unbelievable record-keeping systems and impeccable airplanes," he said.
3rd post, but I meant 2nd repost.
Yeah, the only reason I posted was because Ive seen him give many other people a hard time since Ive been here, so I thought he might like some back.
Yeah, the only reason I posted was because Ive seen him give many other people a hard time since Ive been here, so I thought he might like some back.

[/ QUOTE ] That happened to be the motivation behind my post as well. Aloft is a sharp guy, if you can catch him with his head down you gotta call him on it.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

I have my forum prefs set to show only the 25 most recent topics so I don't have to scroll the page, and the first thread with the American Flyers story was on the next page. I didn't read the "Crooks in Chicago" thread because, well, the subject wasn't interesting (and really isn't very descriptive to the American Flyers matter now, is it?!?!)
. I didn't read the "Crooks in Chicago" thread because, well, the subject wasn't interesting (and really isn't very descriptive to the American Flyers matter now, is it?!?!)

[/ QUOTE ]

That's something I have to check whenever I think I've "scooped" a story to the forum here......that it's actually here, just under a title with next to no relation at all.