Fingers Point At Inexplicable FAA Inaction In Fatal L-39 Accident | Aero-News Network
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Mon, Jun 11, 2012

Fingers Point At Inexplicable FAA Inaction In Fatal L-39 Accident

'Unlawful Operation' of L-39 By Mach 1 Aviation and Incredible Adventures Results in Two Deaths

News and Analysis by Jim Campbell, ANN Editor-In-Chief

Over the course of several YEARS, ANN has chronicled the actions of a pilot with an extensive criminal record by the name of David G Riggs. Riggs, already having done prison time in the US and abroad for a number of infractions, has been the subject of a number of stories in which his actions have been found to be both unsafe, illegal, and of potential peril to those in the air and on the ground.

Principally known as the pilot of an L-39 that terrorized a Santa Monica pier via a high-speed, low-altitude buzz job that scared hundreds and posed a serious danger to the lives of those nearby, David Riggs ultimately had his tickets pulled for a year and a criminal conviction and penalties entered against him (for which he has yet to complete his sentence). Since then, with his tickets restored, Riggs has continued a stunning litany of dangerous activities and efforts that have caused many to report him to the FAA and other Federal agencies, while the activities continued, inexplicably, unabated and unchallenged.

For the Santa Monica Pier stunt, Riggs was criminally charged and eventually sentenced by a California Superior Court to 60 days in jail, 36 months probation, and a $900 fine in connection with the incident. He was also ordered to perform 60 days community labor cleaning up Santa Monica Beach. It was not the only legal/criminal altercation for Riggs -- who has a long history, documented in a number of press reports, of his legal altercations... one of which got him incarcerated in a foreign prison for a year. He has created great enmity among a significant portion of the aviation community... at least one of whom has gone so far as to dedicate a web site to his alleged transgressions (

Riggs, as you may recall, was also the guiding hand behind an effort to bring a convoluted and reportedly unsafe air racing program to the Camarillo Air Show, last August. The race plan was never approved by the FAA, was found to be improperly prepared, as well as poorly researched, and many of the claims made by the race organizers (principally, Riggs) were found to be without foundation or verification. Despite some surprising name-calling and questionable statements by the Air Show organizers and Riggs, the race was not flown... and to this day Riggs and the show staff continue to try to point their fingers at the FAA. The record shows, however; that the FAA bent over backwards to give this race proposal (Ultimate Air Race Challenge -- UARC), every chance to meet the regs and that they, without doubt, failed to do so.

Over the course of several years, ANN has been made aware of numerous online video productions in which Riggs was documented conducting what appeared to be commercial operations in an L-39 Albatros single engine jet trainer and conducting operations that appeared, at first impression, to be outside the regs as well as occasionally showing what appeared to be unsafe actions and operations. ANN reported this evidence and our concerns to the FAA on numerous occasions, and over several years, and is aware of several other pilots and concerned citizens (even FAA personnel), who did likewise. At no time has ANN ever received any evidence to support the possibility of a waiver or other alternate means of compliance that might make these allegedly illegal operations allowable under the FARs.

Riggs openly advertised commercial rides in the L-39 via a number of corporate entities, and another well-known adventure travel company, "Incredible Adventures," featured Riggs on its site and promoted him as an expert pilot while offering rides-for-hire in his aircraft. Advertised as a "Hollywood Top Gun" adventure, IA appeared to be selling the rides as a film-making adventure in which a person who purchases the $3000-$5000 L-39 jet packages would be able to feature themselves in their own "movie." Incredible Adventures promotes the rides by hyping, "You're not just the star of this short film. You share screenwriting credits. Each flight is designed to match your taste for adrenaline. Each script prepared to meet your expectations. You determine what maneuvers you'd like to perform and whether you'll make low passes through the canyons or fly low over the ocean."

Conversation with Incredible Adventures Boss, Jane Reifert in 2011, found her to be quite defensive about the program and short on details as to the flights' legality. Claiming that IA had a put together a special program with the FAA, she claimed the flights were legal, that the details were the secret "intellectual property" of Incredible Adventures, and that she saw no problem working with a pilot like Riggs, despite his history of violations, criminal behavior and convoluted but well-documented history of dangerous and illicit behaviors. Further; she told ANN's Jim Campbell that many of the reports of Riggs' criminal past were nothing more than bad press and the result of stories "people made up" to hurt Riggs. Thereafter; Reifert tried to change the tone of the conversation to accuse other people in the commercial space travel industry of all manner of unsavory activities, while asserting that Incredible Adventures was a paragon, in comparison.

Last month, on May 18th, a two-ship flight of L-39s attempted a take-off from the Boulder City, NV, Airport. One ship was flown by Doug Gillis, an accomplished L-39 pilot... the other by David Riggs. Both had passengers on board. Gillis's L-39 went down shortly after takeoff with the loss of Douglas E. Gilliss, 65, of Solana Beach, a USAF Vet, and his passenger, Richard A. Winslow, 65, of Palm Desert, CA. According to the NTSB Prelim, "A group of eight people had paid for a flight package. The flight was to be 45 minutes long, and at the end of the flight each passenger would be provided a film of their flight. The majority of the group was interviewed, and they stated that they were driven by bus from their hotel to BVU. Once they arrived at BVU, they made their way into BFE FBO (fixed based operator) and were told by someone at BFE that the two airplanes were en route from VNY. While they waited for the airplanes to arrive, the group discussed the order in which they would fly since only one passenger could occupy one seat in each airplane. After the airplanes arrived, the group reported seeing two people exit each airplane. The group talked to the pilots and took pictures of themselves with the airplanes. They moved inside BFE to a conference room where they received a briefing of what to expect. Members of the group indicated that there would be four flights; two flights would occur before lunch, the airplanes would be refueled, and then they would have the final two flights. The passengers did not observe any mechanical problems during the first two flights. The accident flight occurred on the third flight of the day after the lunch break."

The report also stated that, "Mach 1 Aviation and Incredible Adventures operated the flight under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91." According to a number of people associated or directly involved with the FAA, they have no knowledge of how these operations could have been legally conducted under part 91... and no one recalled any waivers or other permissions that would have allowed for same. Further; at least two former FAA staffers claim direct knowledge of previous illegal operations involving Riggs, and both indicated that they had expended serious effort to get the FAA to look aggressively at Riggs' operations and stop them, " the name of aviation safety."


The two FAA personnel (among others) tell a troubling story that contradicts what the FAA is 'spinning' to the public at large.

Former FAA Inspector, Kevin Sullivan, states that, "It is interesting how certain individuals within the FAA literally get away with murder, fraud, lying to congress, granting preferred access to their high office to certain privileged attorneys and individuals for compensation, protecting the guilty, taking bribes, interfering with criminal investigations, preventing law enforcement from getting straight answers and otherwise allowing and therefore encouraging mayhem in the safety conscious aviation community.

It has not been said here before, but consider this: The FAA, under a knowingly made false pretense, initiated the firing of the only FAA Aviation Safety Inspector that provided the evidence from a thorough investigation that led to the only successful certificate enforcement action that resulted in the emergency revocation of Mr. Riggs pilot certificates, which, by the way, was upheld by the full NTSB Judge panel and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals!

I know what happened, because I was there and experienced it first hand. I personally know the individuals within the FAA that were responsible and they, likewise know who they are, and who I am. While it is illegal for them to use their public positions of authority to do so, they are actively engaged in retribution against me directly by interfering with my ability to support my family through my activities in the aviation community. I consider those individuals liars, cowards and traitors to the oaths of office they took to protect the communities they serve and that pay their salaries.

If any of you wish to contact me directly, I will return the communication. I am no longer afraid of you or concerned about your collective opinion of me. I am also not naive about your capability to do harm to me, my family, business contacts and friends. This is the age of the internet, communication at the speed of light and full disclosure. The public demands and has a right to know who you are and what you are doing.

David G Riggs

I say this because I do not want to see another member of the public suffer death, loss or other results from this idiot's uncontrolled, unchecked criminal activities. Remember, these individuals have known about Rigg's giving rides for hire in his Experimental Exhibition aircraft since 2004, and chosen to do nothing to protect the public! There is ample documented evidence that exists to backup all of these statements in the possession of Aviation, the LA Times, the FAA and other individuals. I have personally seen it. Those who know me, know what this means."

Another Inspector, George Erdel, who retired from the FAA after an unsuccessful attempt to fire him, as well, tells a similar story. Erdel has stated publicly that, "I personally made a hot line complaint to Washington FAA Administrators Hot line in May of 2009 concerning Mr Riggs and his miscreant activities and illegal operations after the enforcement case against the airworthiness certificate of his aircraft was closed with NO ACTION at the instruction of the Western Pacific Regional Counsel's instruction to the manager of San Diego FSDO. Following my complaint there was a big meeting to discuss this matter and at that meeting I stated openly and confidently that if Mr. Riggs was not throttled and forced into compliance that he would continue to operate in illegal operations that are unsafe and that more people would die. One of his other aircraft operations resulted in death when the L-39 named Wild Child crashed in the desert several years back. How many more people will have to die before Mr. Riggs is treated accordingly?"

ANN must note that Erdel has reported that he was sued by Riggs for a reported $50++ million dollars... a matter made known to the FAA right away... and having a chilling effect on the FAA Legal office... even though, ultimately, Erdel reports that he was never served with the suit itself and the matter went nowhere. Erdel believes that this legal assault, a favored tool of Riggs, was an attempt to intimidate the FAA intro dropping any actions against him.

Aero-News & Analysis: OK... we have to admit it... this story sickens us. We have lost count of the times that we have referred considerable evidence of questionable activities and reports about Riggs (and some of his cronies) to the FAA for fear of harm to other pilots and the public. After decades of doing the "tough" stories, and either being told we were over-reacting or just plain wrong by the FAA, as well as some of the aviation associations or others; we are stunned to see that even after having been proven right each and every time we've taken on causes like this, that no one else is willing to step up and protect the well-being of aviators and the public against hazards like those noted above.

It is particularly maddening to watch the FAA make innocent airmen jump through hoops, time and time again, after "anonymous" or unverifiable reports were made about matters that had little bearing on the overall safety of the aviation system while virtually ignoring demonstrable hazards like Riggs and others engaged in demonstrably questionable activities. We have been told that the FAA enforcement system has so degenerated that inspectors will jump on a "quick kill" that has little merit or evidence to support it (similar to the incredible details that I documented years ago in the FAA v Hoover case, via my book "Air Of Injustice"), rather than undertake a time-consuming or difficult investigation that involves "real work." Just as difficult to swallow are the details, similar to those we have heard (again) time and time again, where FAA Inspectors who do undertake difficult or unpopular cases suddenly find their jobs in danger.

There is little doubt in our minds that the May 18th accident was avoidable had the FAA heeded any one of dozens of reported warnings about the potential for unlawful and potentially hazardous operations like that which allegedly occurred in Boulder City, NV. Further; we have no idea how many so-called 'training flights' Riggs conducted (a number of which appear to have occurred before he had reportedly earned a Commercial ticket and we have no knowledge, as yet, of his ever earning a CFI) and how many innocent people many have been hazarded, as a result.

And mind you, this may not be the only fatalities that Riggs may have had some culpability in... several years ago, in a so-called movie operation involving another L-39 (better known as Wild Child), Riggs was allegedly directing the pilots of that aircraft through a series of maneuvers that ultimately led to the aircraft impacting terrain with fatal results... as well as some other highly questionable activities. Had the FAA 'done its job' several years ago, the question at the top of our minds is whether or not Winslow and Gillis might be alive today. And of course, that doesn't even include all the scams (several involving airplanes) and alleged cons he has pulled in the interim. David Riggs, from the evidence we've seen and in my personal opinion, represents a serious danger to the aviation industry and the public at large.

By the way; ANN has also alerted a number of luminaries among the aviation associations to this issue and few have shown any inclination to get involved. I have personally detailed this matter to AOPA's Craig Fuller, face to face, as well as a number of other alphabet groups... so the FAA is not the only ones not doing their utmost to protect their constituency.

And yet... there are heroes in all this... Kristy Graham's "Aviation Criminal" site has been tireless in trying to make sure that this matter does not get swept under the rug, even though Riggs is attempting to sue her, out-of-state, for $25K, claiming that her efforts caused him to lose money on the UARC/Camarillo Air Show Air Race debacle (even though the FAA's own published statements say otherwise), and her friend Randy Shatz has been the target of numerous (and often anonymous) false complaints to the FAA Hotline, one now known to have come directly from David Riggs. The LA Times' Dan Weikel has done a good job of covering a difficult and circuitous story for his readership, while several FAA personnel (principally former inspectors Sullivan and Erdel) have bucked the system to try and get the FAA to do its job. Sullivan was reportedly fired, in part, for his actions in attempting to bring Riggs to justice. Kudos must also be extended to ICAS for refusing to allow Riggs to join and use the ICAS name to attempt to legitimize himself, as well as a number of combat jet pilots who refused to fly with one of Riggs' cohorts during the annual airshow over Wittman Field (and to the EAA staff that supported them in their decision to do so).

In the meantime, despite a number of bizarre threats, and at least one extortion attempt (reported to local PD), ANN will continue to report this story and not be dissuaded from doing what good journalism is supposed to do... tell important, factually supported, stories to the people that most need to hear them. We do not expect this story to end here... and as a matter of fact, the details that are coming to light, on an almost daily basis, continue to tell a startling story of an FAA that doesn't work, an aviation system under constant attack by crooks (and not just David Riggs), of the cowardice of the rank and file 'alphabet groups' who are supposedly out there to protect our industry, and an aviation justice system that has become truly disfunctional and is a danger to the flying public. More to follow...



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