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Grey Flight Ban Urged As Emiliano Sala Issue Raised In Parliament

A crackdown has been urged at Westminster on so-called “grey” charter flights following the plane crash that killed Emiliano Sala.

The use of unlicensed air taxis, including by celebrities to travel incognito, was a growing problem in the aviation industry, the House of Lords heard.

The Government has said it shares these concerns and is currently carrying out a safety review, which would look at what further steps can be taken to combat illegal air charters.

Sala signed for Cardiff City from French club Nantes for £15m last year on January 18. The Argentinian striker, 28, was the only passenger on-board the single-engine Piper Malibu aircraft when it plunged into the English Channel in January 2019.

An interim report published by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) shortly after the accident stated the 59-year-old pilot David Ibbotson was not licensed to conduct commercial flights.

Raising the issue in Parliament, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Goddard of Stockport called for lessons to be learned from the tragedy.

He said: “What is the Government doing to crackdown on grey charter flights which is a growing problem in the air industry?”

“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.”

He added: “If one lesson comes from this unfortunate tragedy, it is we need to be more and more stringent on how people travel around in these unlicensed aircraft.”

Responding for the Government, 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.

“The Department for Transport as a result of these concerns has commenced an independent review of the safety of general aviation.

“One of the strands of work… as part of that review is to look at illegal charters and to consider what more steps we can be taking in order to prevent them.”

Mr Ibbotson flew Sala from Cardiff to Nantes the day after he signed. The return flight – which crashed in the Channel – was on January 21.

Sala’s body was recovered but Mr Ibbotson has still not been found.

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

Lady 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 off the coast of Guernsey after an attempt to recover it was hampered by bad weather.

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

An AAIB spokesman has 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 recent first anniversary of the crash, the AAIB announced it intends to publish a final report by the end of March.

Meanwhile, Cardiff continue to be locked in a legal dispute with Nantes over payment of the player’s transfer fee.

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