FAA Sets $134,475 Fine Against Vieques Air Link for Flights With Unqualified Pilots

A Vieques Air Link BN
twiga_swala, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON – The US regulatory body the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed a $134,475 civil penalty against Vieques Air Link of Puerto Rico for allegedly conducting passenger flights with unqualified pilots. 

The FAA alleges that between July and August 2022 Vieques Air Link used pilots without appropriate certificates to operate 11 commuter flights in multiple twin-engine Britten-Norman aircraft. 


Vieques Air Link (VAL) is a small Puerto Rico-based airline that links Vieques with Culebra and mainland Puerto Rico.

Originally founded in 1965 by owner Osvaldo “Val” Gonzalez-Duriex, the company began as a general aviation operator.

In present day, Vieques Air Link operates more than 30 daily flights to several destinations in Culerba, Puerto Rico as well as and the US and British Virgin Islands.

Photo: Operator’s aircraft parked at Antonia Rivera Rodrieguez Airport, Vieques, PR. Photo Credit:
G. Edward Johnson, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The carrier’s fleet currently consists of 10 general aviation aircraft: 3 Cessna C208 Caravans, 5 twin-engine Britten-Norman Islanders and 2 Britten-Norman Trislanders.

According to the operator’s website:

“Our airline counts with a highly qualified group of pilots, certified mechanics and more than 60 employees committed to give each one of our passengers the best possible service and a delightful experience.”

“Vieques Air Link is an FAA Certified Air Carrier, founded in 1965, who also offers personalized charter and cargo services for those looking for even more convenience.”

Summary


Whilst the FAA have characterized the breach as being the ‘use of unqualified pilots’, it is still unclear as to the exact nature of that breach.

A lack of qualification may potentially be a lack of the appropriate level of license to act as pilot in command on commercial operations, or it may relate to the lack of type certification for the type of aircraft being flown.

The complete circumstances and the operator’s motivation for carrying out these flights is similarly unclear.

The United States, like many other nations, is currently facing a pilot shortage across the commercial aviation sector. The pressure on air operators is being exacerbated by the growing demand for air travel services as the world moves past the global pandemic period.

Again, it is uncertain whether these factors played a part in the breached by the Puerto Rican operator Vieques Air Link.

As it currently stands, Vieques Air Link has 30 days to respond to the FAA after receiving the agency’s enforcement letter. 

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