DEA, FAA & OIG Cooperate
Possible Drug Flight with Modified Fuel System Blocked
Drug Enforcement Administration investigators, who surveil Southern Florida airports including Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, became aware of a possible flight to bring illegal drugs into the United States. The exact sequence and degree of involvement are unclear, but this planned illegal activity was blocked by cooperation among the DEA, FAA and US DOT Office of Inspector General (which reported the conviction, adding to its scoreboard of convictions; 25 in 2016).
The DEA observed an aircraft with a modified fuel system. Its intelligence was that Guy St. Amour, Pembroke Pines, Florida was preparing to depart Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport to Asuncion, Paraguay. St. Amour, an FAA-certificated airline transport pilot, modified an aircraft’s fuel system and operated the aircraft without FAA authorization with the intent to fly to Paraguay.
The “large marine fuel tank in the rear of the cabin, held in place with a ratchet strap. A clear hose connected the tank to the wing of the airplane. The exposed tubing was held in place with duct tape, and the transfer of fuel was to be powered by a 12-volt accessory plug from a pump to the plane’s cigarette lighter jack.”
The investigation disclosed that the fuel tank modification had not been approved by FAA, did not comply with FAA regulations, and was not an acceptable aviation fuel tank installation.
On June 19, 2017, St. Amour pled guilty in U.S. District Court, Fort Lauderdale, to operating an aircraft with an illegally modified fuel system.
Here is an analysis of the precise nature of the FAR violation:
- The unapproved alteration of this aircraft rendered the aircraft unairworthy.
- The fuel tank installation did not meet the requirements of Part 21 because the parts/components used were not produced to an aircraft standard or traceable to an FAA approved process.
- The alteration to the aircraft was not in accordance with Part 43 when the work was not performed in such a manner and use materials of such a quality, that the condition of the aircraft, airframe, aircraft engine, propeller, or appliance worked on was not at least equal to its original or properly altered condition.
It also does not sound like he signed off in the log book; so, a false statement charge under 18 USC 1001 would not have been sustained.
Credit to the investigation team for using the FARs to prevent the flight. If the plane reached Paraguay, it would have been difficult to interdict the drugs on the return air transportation.
Moral of the story: always check your alteration with a DER… or the DEA may get you.