Wales politics

Emiliano Sala: Review of 'grey' charter flights after death

Emiliano Sala Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Emiliano Sala died in a plane crash in January 2019

The UK government is to look at how "grey" charter flights can be prevented following the plane crash that killed footballer Emiliano Sala.

The use of "unlicensed air taxis" was a growing problem in the aviation industry, the House of Lords heard.

Sala, 28, was the only passenger onboard the single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft which crashed into the Engish Channel in January 2019.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Goddard of Stockport called for a clampdown.

An interim report, published by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said the 59-year-old pilot David Ibbotson, from Crowle, North Lincolnshire, was not licensed to carry paying passengers.

Raising the issue in Parliament, Lord Goddard called for lessons to be learned from the tragedy.

He said: "Grey charter flights are unlicensed air taxis and they are being used by footballers, by celebrities, by people to bypass the system and to get from A to B with a degree of privacy.

"It is a problem because they are unlicensed and unregulated and we really need to clampdown."

Image caption Baroness Vere said the UK government shares concerns around grey charters

Transport Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said: "We share his concerns around grey charters.

"It is illegal to operate a commercial flight without an operating licence and an air operating certificate, which is overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority."

She said the Department for Transport had commenced an independent review of the safety of general aviation as a result of the concerns.

"One of the strands of work... is to look at illegal charters and to consider what more steps we can be taking in order to prevent them," she added.

Sala signed for Cardiff City from French club Nantes for £15 million on January 18 2019 - Mr Ibbotson flew him from Cardiff to Nantes the following day.

The return flight crashed close to Guernsey on January 21. Sala's body was recovered on 7 February, but Mr Ibbotson has not yet been found.

Image copyright David Ibbotson
Image caption The failure to find David Ibbotson's body was questioned in the House of Lords on Monday

This was also raised by Lord Goddard, who questioned the failure to retrieve the Mr Ibbotson's body.

Baroness Vere said: "In this case, once a body was found, the AAIB prioritised its recovery. It was only later identified as that of Emiliano Sala.

"The government accepts that no evidence of David Ibbotson's body was found and so no retrieval could occur."

The aircraft remains underwater after an attempt to recover it was hampered by bad weather.

Relatives of Sala and Mr Ibbotson have called for the wreckage to be salvaged to help find out what happened.

An AAIB spokesman previously said it had chosen not to repeat a retrieval attempt due to the high costs involved, the information already collected and the risk the wreckage would "not yield definitive evidence".

On the first anniversary of the crash, the AAIB announced it intended to publish a final report by the end of March.

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