Flight school involved in 3 copter crashes in past year has no safety violations at JWA, airport says

Firefighters assist as a crane lifts a helicopter from a runway after it crashed Monday at John Wayne Airport. (Orange County Fire Authority)

One Above Aviation, a flight school involved in three area helicopter crashes in the past year — one of them fatal — has not violated any of John Wayne Airport’s airfield safety standards in its five years of operating there, the airport says.

The flight school and touring company owned and operated a small Guimbal Cabri G2 helicopter that crashed Monday at John Wayne Airport, injuring the two people onboard.

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The company also operated a helicopter that crashed into a Newport Beach home in January, killing three people and injuring two others. And in September 2017, a copter the company operated crashed at Long Beach Airport, injuring the student pilot. At the time of those crashes, the flight school was known as Revolution Aviation.

John Wayne Airport spokeswoman Deanne Thompson said the airport holds strict airfield safety standards for anyone flying in or out of the airport. However, she said, incidents like Monday’s are “out of [the airport’s] purview” and that the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have jurisdiction for the investigation.

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To her knowledge, Thompson said, One Above Aviation has not violated any of the airport’s safety standards.

“We hold everyone to the same standard on the airfield — we have to operate a safe airfield,” Thompson said.

The 78-page “Airport Rules and Regulations” handbook lays out the code of conduct for all tenants, subtenants and commercial carriers using John Wayne Airport.

The handbook contains requirements for aircraft maintenance, insurance and equipment inspections. If any standard in the handbook is violated, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department airport police and airport operations personnel can take disciplinary action, including issuing citations for infractions or misdemeanors and permanently or temporarily suspending airport-issued badges, licenses, permits or operating agreements.

Thompson said One Above Aviation is an airport subtenant, operating there under a lease with ACI Jet, an aviation company that provides corporate aircraft management, charter, maintenance and ground services, according to its website.

Kyle Cassidy, a manager at ACI Jet, confirmed that One Above Aviation is a tenant of the company but declined further comment.

One Above Aviation did not respond to a request for comment.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the January crash in Newport Beach and the one this week at John Wayne Airport are under investigation by the FAA and NTSB. He declined further comment about the investigations.

Before that, in July 2017, Gregor said, the FAA received a complaint about alleged maintenance violations concerning Robinson R22 and R44 helicopters that Revolution Aviation owned or operated. Reviews of the copters that eventually went down in Long Beach and Newport Beach found maintenance issues that did not meet FAA or maintenance manual standards, according to an FAA memo in August 2017.

The FAA substantiated some of the complaints and counseled two mechanics on proper maintenance practices, Gregor said.

Revolution Aviation addressed all the issues the FAA brought to its attention and put policies in place to prevent recurrences, according to Gregor. That echoed a statement in the memo from Jeffrey Rafferty, who at the time was the principal maintenance inspector with the FAA in Long Beach.

Generally, Gregor said, the FAA increases its oversight of companies that experience multiple accidents or other serious incidents in a short time. He did not say whether that would happen with One Above.

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