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Air One Helicopters Inc. v. Federal Aviation Administration

filed: June 12, 1996.

AIR ONE HELICOPTERS, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION, PETITIONER,
v.
FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, RESPONDENT.



Petition to Review a Decision of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Before: Stephen Reinhardt, David R. Thompson, and Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge Thompson; Dissent by Judge O'Scannlain.

Author: Thompson

THOMPSON, Circuit Judge:

Air One Helicopters, Inc. (Air One), the undisputed owner of a helicopter, has been ensnared in webs of bureaucratic regulation spun by two countries, Spain and the United States. The effect has been to preclude Air One from registering its helicopter with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) even though it is crystal clear Air One owns the aircraft, has discharged the lien which once attached to it, and the aircraft's current registration in Spain is no longer valid.

We grant review and end the bureaucratic gridlock. We reverse the FAA's denial of Air One's application, and direct the FAA to register the helicopter showing Air One as its owner.

I

FACTS

Air One bought the helicopter, a Sikorski S-58T, serial number 58-1626, in 1990 from a Spanish company, Helisca Helicopters, S.A. (Helisca), and attempted to register the aircraft with the FAA pursuant to federal law and FAA implementing regulations. See 49 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq ;*fn1 14 C.F.R. § 47.37.

In 1992, the FAA issued an opinion letter which stated that Air One's helicopter was not eligible for registration because the aircraft was still registered in Spain. An aircraft cannot have dual registration under the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention). See 61 Stat. 1180, T.I.A.S. 1591 (December 7, 1944). The FAA instructed Air One to obtain from the Direccion General de Aviacion Civil (DGAC), Spain's national aircraft registry, a statement that the helicopter's Spanish registration was no longer valid. Without such a statement, the FAA deemed Air One's helicopter ineligible for registration in the United States.

Air One unsuccessfully petitioned the DGAC in Spain for a statement of de-registration. The DGAC refused to provide such a statement because the registry showed a lien on the helicopter in the name of a Norwegian corporation, Sameiet Heli Invest I (Sameiet). The DGAC insists Air One must obtain an official corporate document from Sameiet declaring the corporation has been paid in full for the helicopter before the DGAC will de-register the aircraft.

Sameiet, however, was never a corporate entity registered under Norwegian law or elsewhere, and it no longer exists in any form. Therefore, there is no possibility that Air One will ever be able to obtain the official corporate document from Sameiet which the DGAC in Spain demands.

Air One has diligently attempted to get the DGAC to de-register the aircraft without such a statement, but the DGAC has steadfastly resisted these efforts. Air One provided the DGAC with a sworn affidavit from Asmud Simonson, the President of the parent company of Sameiet, stating that Helisca had paid Sameiet in full for the helicopter. The record indicates that Simonson "formed" Sameiet for the sole purpose of buying and selling this particular helicopter. Although he used the Sameiet name in its corporate form for the transaction, he did not incorporate Sameiet under Norwegian law, or anywhere else. As a result, there never were any officers or directors of Sameiet, and it never had a corporate seal. There is absolutely no way it can provide the official corporate document the DGAC demands.

Simonson's affidavit explaining the circumstances was deemed insufficient by the DGAC, which again demanded a corporate document. Air One has since enlisted the assistance of the United States Embassy in Madrid, but it was unable to persuade the DGAC to de-register the helicopter. Air One, with the cooperation of Simonson and Helisca, retained legal counsel in Spain. The attorneys advised Air One that bringing a court challenge there will be unsuccessful because of the Spanish judiciary's deference to the DGAC's administrative decisions and that a court challenge might take up to ten years.

Air One filed two registration applications with the FAA explaining these circumstances and including all of the relevant correspondence. Each time, the FAA has responded with letters stating Air One's helicopter is ineligible for registration in the United ...


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