Hiatt Airport operator facing federal charges

Nov. 22, 2013 @ 02:14 PM

The operator of Hiatt Airport on Wednesday appeared in U.S. District Court to face charges alleging he lied to the Federal Aviation Administration.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office - Western District of North Carolina, Hiatt Airport manager Paul Douglas Tharp, 53, of Greensboro, was arrested in Winston-Salem on a five-count criminal indictment charging him with providing false information to the FAA regarding his qualifications as a mechanic and a pilot, and for flying an airplane without the proper license. If convicted, Tharp faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and $250,000 fine for each of the two criminal counts of making false statements to the FAA and a maximum three years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the three counts of flying without proper authorization.

"“The arrest [Wednesday] is a clear signal that safety of the Nation’s air transportation system remains a high priority for both [Office of Inspector General] and [Department of Transportation],” said Kathryn A. Jones, DOT-OIG regional Special Agent-In-Charge. “Working with the FAA, and our law enforcement and prosecutorial colleagues, we will continue our vigorous efforts to prevent and detect unlawful use of, and false statements related to, pilot and mechanic certificates; and punish to the fullest extent of the law those who would seek to compromise the integrity of DOT’s safety programs.”

An indictment unsealed Wednesday alleges that beginning around 2011, Warrior and Warbirds, a Monroe-based group, hired Tharp to repair and refinish a multi-engine Curtiss Wright C-46F airplane. The group purchased the aircraft from an aviation museum in Midland, Texas, and was planning to feature it at another museum at the Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport. Tharp at the time was certified to fly single-engine aircrafts only, and did not have a multi-engine pilots license or a FAA mechanic Certificate with an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) rating. According to the press release, Tharp told Warriors and Warbirds he was an A&P mechanic, licensed to operate a multi-engine plane and could get the C-46F in good condition.

Tharp regularly traveled to Midland to perform maintenance on the plane and also acted as second in command during flights, knowing he was not authorized or certified to do either, according to the indictment. Tharp on or about June 4, 2011 traveled with other people from Monroe to an air show in Reading, Pa., in the C-46F while acting as second in command pilot. The FAA required a special ferry permit before the plane could fly back to Monroe because the craft still needed additional mechanical work to improve its airworthiness. On or about June 5, 2011, when asked by an FAA inspector if someone had inspected the plane's condition for the flight back to North Carolina, Tharp said he was a A&P mechanic but had forgotten his certificate in the rush to fly to Pennsylvania. The indictment states that Tharp gave the inspector the number of another A&P certificate holder without permission.

Tharp received a special ferry permit from the inspector allowing him to fly the C-46F and its passengers back to Monroe while again acting as second in command. The FAA inspector later checked on the certificate number Tharp provided, leading to an investigation. The FAA issued a inquiry letter to Tharp regarding his pilot's certificate. He replied by stating "I have been putting a time line of when I received my multi-engine rating," which the FAA alleges is false .

"Tharp knowingly and repeatedly lied about his qualifications to his clients and the FAA, and in the process put lives at risk," U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins said. "Tharp's lack of proper certification as a pilot and a mechanic is a serious safety hazard and now Tharp must face legal consequences of these dangerous lies."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth M. Smith of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte is prosecuting the case.


Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com.