A European light aircraft manufacturer is claiming the FAA has suspended imports of its aircraft to the U.S. because it couldn't locate one of its factories with a Google Earth search. Michael Coates, who handles U.S. distribution for Slovenia-based Pipistrel Aircraft, said the company has since provided ample proof that the factory does exist but have been given no indication when the importation ban might be lifted. "The FAA has used Google Earth to validate certification data," Coates told AVweb. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said she is looking into the matter but was unable to respond in time for our deadline. Coates said the Google searcher didn't plug the right data into his computer and the little pushpin landed on a traffic circle rather than an airport. The simple explanation is that the FAA staffer used the plant's mailing address, which is about 1,000 feet from the physical location of the factory in an Italian city near the border with Slovenia. "He just didn't zoom out enough," Coates said. However, it's more complicated than that. The action is related to an announcement by the FAA in July that it would be cracking down on possible importation abuses in the LSA industry.
Slovenia does not have a bilateral agreement with the U.S. on aircraft certification so it cannot export aircraft to the U.S. To get around that issue, Coates said Pipistrel set up a manufacturing facility in Italy, which does have a bilateral agreement. He said the plant is operated in accordance with Italian regulations and the entire aircraft is built at the Italian plant. "Everyone knows it's there," he said. The Italian operation had to move recently but Coates said the FAA has been supplied with all the lease agreements with Fly Synthesis, which is renting Pipistrel temporary space for the next two years. Coates said Pipistrel has offered to fly FAA officials to Italy at its own expense to show them the plant and it's also said they are welcome to pay an unannounced visit. "We have an open-door policy," he said. In the meantime, there are customers waiting for aircraft and Coates said he has a hard time contacting anyone at the FAA. When someone does answer the phone, he said, they will say only that the issue is under review and cannot give a timeframe for resolution of the issue. Coates said he's asked for help from EAA and the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association but has been disappointed by their response. He said Sen. Jim Inhofe is aware of the issue and is knocking on doors in Washington.