Cardiff call for urgent action against illegal flights

Cardiff and the Air Charter Association have called for urgent action against illegal flights following the plane crash which led to the death of Emiliano Sala.

Sala, 28, was flying to Cardiff in January following his transfer from French side Nantes when the Piper Malibu plane piloted by David Ibbotson crashed into the English Channel.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found in its preliminary report in February that Ibbotson was not licensed to fly fee-paying passengers and the plane itself was not registered to undertake commercial flights, the Air Charter Association and Cardiff said in a statement.

Records have since shown that Ibbotson was also not licensed to fly at night.

The statement read: “We wholeheartedly back the Air Charter Association (BACA) in their efforts to secure a review of illegal flights.

“Our club has been shocked by the sheer scale of the problem in the sporting world, and more broadly.

“The club has a robust flight policy, but we are putting in place additional processes to protect players and staff.

“We will be insisting that intermediaries book only commercial licensed air carriers when handling player transfers. We are hopeful that other clubs will take similar positions.

“Meaningful progress on this issue – in the form of accountability and protections – would be one positive outcome from what is a terrible tragedy for everyone who knew Emiliano and for the football world as a whole.”

BACA, the body which represents air charter companies, has called on the government to review the level of criminal liability and enforcement options available to authorities, including bigger fines and prison sentences for pilots and individuals who arrange and undertake illegal flights.

“This must be a watershed moment,” said BACA chief executive Dave Edwards.

“We have long argued that illegal flights are harming the legal air charter industry and putting lives of the travelling public at risk.

“It has become so prevalent that there is circumstantial evidence to suggest illegal flights are routinely happening frequently throughout the country.

“In the case of the circumstances surrounding the Piper PA-46 Malibu crash, we believe there is enough evidence available to authorities to take strong action against those involved in this flight and to propose significant recommendations for reform.

“We desperately need stronger punishments to be available and, most importantly, better enforcement.”

Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty echoed the calls of Cardiff and BACA for better enforcement.

“There is an urgent need to review just how prevalent an issue ‘grey charters’ is,” Doughty said in the statement. “It seems on the surface to be a wild west industry that is putting lives at risk every single day.

“We need to make sure this is never allowed to happen again.”