Friday, January 5, 2018
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
FORMER Bahamian 'partners' of an illegal charter operator yesterday admitted they were "very fortunate" to have escaped serious damage to their reputations and business.
Captain Fredrick McPhee, proprietor of Nassau-based KA Flight Training Centre, told Tribune Business he was deterred from deeper involvement with Robert 'Charles' Brady and Beach Aviation after Bahamian regulators warned him of several "red flags" they had uncovered on the American.
Expressing his relief, Captain McPhee said Brady "had all of us fooled", and revealed that the American owed him almost $3,000 for arranging a charter flight to take his friends from a Bahamian Family Island to Florida.
Tribune Business revealed earlier this week how Mr Brady, who has been charged by the US federal authorities with operating an illegal charter service between Florida and the Bahamas while lacking the necessary pilot's licence, partnered with the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) in 2015 to launch the 'Bahamas Aviation Academy'.
The Academy, which was billed as providing training courses for budding Bahamian pilots, appears never to have got off the ground. And news of his 56-count indictment by the US federal authorities has prompted Captain McPhee and Brady's other one-time Bahamian contacts to rapidly distance themselves from his activities and alleged wrongdoing.
Dr Kenneth Romer, who was described as one of Brady and Beach Aviation's 'partners' in BTVI's Aviation Academy release, told this newspaper via e-mail: "After several brief interactions with Mr Brady, I severed all ties and association with him in 2015 following a well-intentioned announcement of plans to introduce training after collaborating with local training stakeholders."
Captain McPhee, meanwhile, wrote: "I want to categorically deny any knowledge of his illegal involvements and operations. I would like to add that he had all of us fooled by his actions.
"My relationship and interaction were severed over a year ago when things were not looking right with his actions. I myself was also victim of his illegal actions, as he owes me money for services rendered."
There has been no official statement or reaction from BTVI to-date, but Captain McPhee - in a subsequent interview with Tribune Business - acknowledged he was lucky to have avoided any reputational damage to himself and his pilot training business as a result of Brady's actions.
"Given the extent of where he's at, and who he is, my name could have got damaged," he admitted. "I'm well-known at the airport [Lynden Pindling International Airport]. Whenever anyone asks for training, my name comes up.
"I'm a person who believes my name is all I've got. I'm very fortunate that it never went further than it actually did at this point."
Captain McPhee said he was initially put in contact with Brady and Beach Aviation by one of his students, who went over to the American's Boca Raton-based company for additional flying hours.
Recalling that this occurred some four to five yeas ago, the two sides sought to turn their "mutual interest" into a partnership where Captain McPhee and his company would conduct flight training in the Bahamas, and Beach Aviation conducted the examinations and pilot training in Florida.
"It never quite materialised to what we had discussed," Captain McPhee said, "and as it started going forward, the way he [Brady] was acting, I distanced myself initially and let him do what he wanted to do and did my own thing."
He added that Brady sought out BTVI, and the potential 'Bahamas Aviation Academy' tie-up, "on his own" and without the involvement of himself and KA Flight Training Centre. Captain McPhee added that, "to my knowledge", the 'Academy' never reach the stage of take-off, and no students were enrolled in it.
Already wary of Brady, Captain McPhee said he had already begun to "distance myself" due to the American's behaviour prior to receiving a warning "about a year ago" from the Civil Aviation Authority's Flight Standards Inspectorate (FSI).
"Flight Standards contacted me about some things that had come up; that was about a year ago," Captain McPhee told Tribune Business. "We started severing ties.
"They [Flight Standards] said some red flags came up when he made an application for a charter company. Some flags came up, and to the extent my name was associated with him, they told me to be careful. I started backing off. I never pursued anything further with him."
Captain McPhee added that Dr Romer had "distanced himself a year before I did", having his own concerns about Brady and the Beach Aviation operation. There is no suggestion either man has done anything wrong in relation to Brady.
Brady's indictment prompted one Bahamian aviation operator to call for an intensified crackdown on illegal charter operators - both local and foreign - by the Government.
Captain Randy Butler, Sky Bahamas' president and chief executive, told Tribune Business that illegal charter flights were "a huge problem" in the Bahamian aviation market and represented "a serious safety issue".
He added that the Bahamas could ill-afford any accidents involving illegal charters, given its reliance on tourism as the country's key job creator and wealth driver.