Charter Pilot Pleads Guilty To Fraud

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A pilot who admits that he changed weight and balance calculations and knew that a captain was not fit to fly and said nothing has pleaded guilty to federal charges in New Jersey. Francis Viera, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., worked for Platinum Jet Management, based in Florida, and said he flew charters for the company although the company wasn't properly certified to offer such flights. Five others associated with the company are facing various federal charges, which were brought after a company jet crashed in Teterboro in February 2005. The Bombardier Challenger CL-600-1A11 jet failed to take off, skidded through an airport fence, and ran into a warehouse, injuring 11 people in the airplane and 3 on the ground. Viera was not on board for the accident flight. The captain on that flight is among those facing charges.

The NTSB said in its final report that the jet was not within weight-and-balance limits and the center of gravity was well forward of the forward takeoff limit, which prevented the airplane from rotating. Neither pilot properly checked the weight and balance before takeoff. The NTSB also criticized the FAA for failing to exercise adequate oversight of the charter operator. Platinum Jet Management was flying under a Part 135 certificate held by another company. The company's pilots routinely "improperly modified" the weight-and-balance forms to show that the airplane was operating within its limits, the NTSB said. The safety board also said the FAA FSDO in Birmingham, Ala., contributed to the accident by failing to provide adequate oversight of the company's operations.