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FAA Investigates American Flyers



 
 
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  #1  
Old November 3rd 03, 02:12 PM
SFM
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Default FAA Investigates American Flyers

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/l...,1068995.story

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.



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  #2  
Old November 3rd 03, 04:19 PM
Maule Driver
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I wrote the following after my American Flyer experience some time ago:

Subject: American Flyers
From: Bill W - MauleDriver
Date: Thu Jun 13 13:58:29 2002
My experience 7 years ago wasn't good. They only thing they do well is bill
you. They overbill if possible. Don't ever require a refund because that
will take time. Plenty of planes and CFIs but optimized for cash yield and
little else.
"Helen Woods" wrote in message
...
Anyone have any experience with American Flyers in FL? I'm looking for
someplace to finish my instrument and do a commercial rating. I'm at
wits end with broken planes, hard to find instructors, etc. at the local
FBO.

Helen





  #3  
Old November 3rd 03, 06:37 PM
C J Campbell
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When I was not progressing on my instrument rating at Sierra Academy, I went
to American Flyers to see if I would benefit from a different approach (so
to speak).

The instructor did not have a hood for me to wear, yet she claimed to be
giving me instrument instruction. We flew several approaches. She
demonstrated complete lack of understanding on how to fly an NDB approach.
She talked so much that we missed several radio calls. She did not know that
when flying a localizer approach that the CDI will work no matter what the
OBS is set to; she thought the CDI was broken!

I expected better of a CFII, so I stayed with SA and finished there. Since
SA was milking me (big time), I switched to AllATPs for the rest of my
ratings. AllATPs did exactly what was promised, no more and no less -- which
meant a lot of time spent on self study. AllATPs got me to the point where I
could pass the check ride, but that was about it. There is something to be
said for this approach, but the graduate has to understand that he has a lot
of work ahead of him. I believe that the depth of instrument training at SA
continues to benefit me to this day. The practical experience of AllATPs
long, multi-day cross country multi-engine training is equally valuable.

If I could construct a custom course, it would be a combination of SA's
ground schools with ATP's flying experience.


  #4  
Old November 3rd 03, 08:22 PM
Tom S.
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"Maule Driver" wrote in message
. com...
I wrote the following after my American Flyer experience some time ago:

Subject: American Flyers
From: Bill W - MauleDriver
Date: Thu Jun 13 13:58:29 2002
My experience 7 years ago wasn't good. They only thing they do well is

bill
you. They overbill if possible. Don't ever require a refund because that
will take time.


That sounds like most every American company I've dealt with in the last ten
years -- Customer Service is open from 9:00 AM until 4:00PM, but the
Collections Dept. is open from 5:00 AM until midnight. Typical operation
when an MBA is running the show :~)






  #5  
Old November 4th 03, 02:17 PM
Maule Driver
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Default

"Tom S." wrote in message
My experience 7 years ago wasn't good. They only thing they do well is

bill
you. They overbill if possible. Don't ever require a refund because that
will take time.


That sounds like most every American company I've dealt with in the last

ten
years -- Customer Service is open from 9:00 AM until 4:00PM, but the
Collections Dept. is open from 5:00 AM until midnight. Typical operation
when an MBA is running the show :~)

Thanks for commiserating but perhaps too broad a brush. Everything about
American Flyers smelled like "produce revenue while providing the absolute
mininum in service and value". Started with a manual with out of date FARs
and 10th generation unreadable copies. Three different CFIs on 3 trips
despite assurances of a single instructor. Ended when I finished with an
overpayment for unused flight time. Whatever the process was for getting a
refund, no one there could do it and surely it would require me to return
home and do it over the phone. 10 days minimum! When I made it clear that
I wasn't walking out the door without it and started to enlist other
students to help me figure out what was going on, a refund was made. There
was nothing in dispute.... just BS.

Anyway, making money is a fine thing -- I admire it. Making money by giving
people a high quality product/service, the way the want it, is most
admirable. ATP Inc. clearly knows how to close a sale and collect a bill.
But they offer a quality package of instructional services in quality planes
with well trained instructors working well designed sylabi (whatever). What
they sell is not for everyone and every situation but it is clearly
described, delivered as promised, and done with flexibility within a tightly
controlled program. I gladly pay for that.

I went into American Flyers (Florida) with a positive expectation but caught
the stench within 10 mins. Should have trusted my instincts. I have no
problem dissing them and hope the FAA takes them down. Sometimes 'market
forces' aren't enough.


  #6  
Old November 4th 03, 04:38 PM
Roy Smith
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Maule Driver wrote:
Everything about American Flyers smelled like "produce revenue while
providing the absolute mininum in service and value".


I only have one experience with AF. They took over the flight school
ops from Westair at White Plains a couple of years ago (I'm not sure
why, but I suspect what was going on was the airport squezed Westair
on rent when they tore down Westair's old building and put up a fancy
new one). I took a couple of hours of in their simulator.

When I paid my bill, I was astounded when they tacked on a few extra
bucks to cover credit card transaction fees! It wasn't a whole lot of
money, but I've never heard of anybody ever doing anything like that.
I didn't even think it was legal.
  #8  
Old November 4th 03, 05:05 PM
Maule Driver
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Default

"Roy Smith"
Everything about American Flyers smelled like "produce revenue while
providing the absolute mininum in service and value".


I only have one experience with AF....

When I paid my bill, I was astounded when they tacked on a few extra
bucks to cover credit card transaction fees! It wasn't a whole lot of
money, but I've never heard of anybody ever doing anything like that.
I didn't even think it was legal.

That's funny. That may have been the reason I paid by check and found it so
hard to get a refund. I *never* pay by check. But given a transaction fee,
I would.

You know, I can't quite justify calling them scumbags....


  #9  
Old November 4th 03, 05:05 PM
MRQB
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It is against visa/mastercard rules call visa/master card file a complaint
if you have proof send them the recipe with the surcharge they will credit
you back for it. i will not deal with any company that dose a surcharge for
taking credit card and if i find one that is charging i report them ASAP. i
take credit cards in my business i pay 0.9% + $0.10 per transaction that is
a min cost that will get me another customer that wants to use a credit card
and it also is a business cost witch at tax time helps.



"Roy Smith" wrote in message
...
Maule Driver wrote:
Everything about American Flyers smelled like "produce revenue while
providing the absolute mininum in service and value".


I only have one experience with AF. They took over the flight school
ops from Westair at White Plains a couple of years ago (I'm not sure
why, but I suspect what was going on was the airport squezed Westair
on rent when they tore down Westair's old building and put up a fancy
new one). I took a couple of hours of in their simulator.

When I paid my bill, I was astounded when they tacked on a few extra
bucks to cover credit card transaction fees! It wasn't a whole lot of
money, but I've never heard of anybody ever doing anything like that.
I didn't even think it was legal.



  #10  
Old November 4th 03, 05:22 PM
Ron Natalie
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Default


"Roy Smith" wrote in message ...

When I paid my bill, I was astounded when they tacked on a few extra
bucks to cover credit card transaction fees! It wasn't a whole lot of
money, but I've never heard of anybody ever doing anything like that.
I didn't even think it was legal.


Whether they can pass on the credit card fees depends on what state you're
in. It's legal here (Virginia) but not in California.


 




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