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Pilot who buzzed Santa Monica Pier loses license for second time

November 16, 2012 | 12:23 pm

David G. Riggs, a local aviator whose flight privileges were revoked after buzzing the Santa Monica Pier in 2008, lost his pilot’s license again this week for illegally selling rides to the public in a Soviet-era military jet.

The enforcement action by the Federal Aviation Administration stems from an accident in Nevada on May 18 in which an Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros crashed in the desert, killing a veteran pilot and a passenger who had purchased a ride in the two-seat trainer.

Authorities said Riggs was flying with another passenger in his own L-39 next to the ill-fated plane shortly before it crashed.

Both high-performance aircraft had flown that day from Van Nuys Airport to the Boulder City Municipal Airport, where eight people who had bought flights were set to take turns riding in the Czechoslovakian-built jets. Investigators said Riggs took three of them on separate flights and was prepared to take a fourth for a ride.

FAA officials issued an emergency revocation order against Riggs on Tuesday. A copy of the document was obtained Friday by The Times.

The order states that Riggs violated federal regulations that forbid the operators of experimental or exhibition aircraft from selling rides unless they have permission from the government. It notes that two weeks before the flights in question, Riggs assured FAA inspectors in Van Nuys that he would not carry passengers for compensation.

“In this case, you were willing to sacrifice the safety of others for your own personal financial gain,” the order states. “Your enforcement history of deliberately compromising aviation safety demonstrates that you lack the qualifications to hold any FAA issued pilot certificate.”

Under the emergency order, Riggs must surrender his flight certificates to the FAA immediately, but he has the right to appeal the year-long revocation to a federal administrative law judge.

Riggs first lost his flight privileges for making several low-level passes over the Santa Monica Pier in an L-39 on Nov. 8, 2008. FAA officials said he streaked along the beach at low altitude and then pulled up or turned away abruptly when he reached the pier, endangering the public. His pilot certificate was reinstated after the year-long penalty period.

Killed in the Boulder City crash were Richard Winslow, 65, of Palm Desert and Douglas E. Gilliss, 65, of Solana Beach, a former U.S. Air Force captain with years of experience flying vintage military jets. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board have been investigating the accident.

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-- Dan Weikel

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