A British Columbia flight instructor alleges the pilot of a plane that crashed in northern Ontario with two wanted men on board had been advertising flight tours on a plane that wasn’t registered for commercial use.
Azam Azami, a flight instructor based in Chilliwack, B.C., said he flagged an online ad posted by Abhi Handa in a report to Transport Canada in December, more than four months before the same plane in the ad went down.
Azami says he noticed the image of a plane posted on Facebook Marketplace was not typically used for commercial purposes and when he searched it in a public database, he found it was only privately licensed.
Although Handa shared with him an image of his commercial pilot’s licence, Azami said the plane would still need to be registered for commercial use before he could take on paying passengers.
“(Handa) was posting on Facebook about doing a charter service and charging money on a privately registered aircraft. That’s illegal because it has to be a commercially registered aircraft with proper checks and balances in place,” Azami said in an interview.
“I reported him because I’m a flight instructor and I teach my students about being conscious and good pilots, decision making and you know, following the rules because rules are there to keep everybody safe.”
Handa has been identified by Ontario Provincial Police as the man flying a small aircraft that crashed in northwestern Ontario last month, killing all four aboard.
Police have identified the other passengers as Gene Lahrkamp, who was wanted in Thailand for murder, Duncan Bailey and Hankun Hong.
Bailey has the same full name and age as a man who breached his bail conditions in B.C., where he had been charged in a separate murder plot.
The crash is under investigation by the Transportation Safety Board, Ontario Provincial Police and the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, which is British Columbia’s anti-gang unit.
Azami’s report on Dec. 7, 2021, to Transport Canada includes screengrabs of the ads Handa allegedly posted as well as a transcript of the messages they exchanged.
Azami’s allegations were first reported in the Vancouver Sun.
The Piper Cherokee aircraft’s registration number matches what the Transportation Safety Board has confirmed is the registration number of the plane that crashed.
Azami said he initially pretended to be an interested customer to gather more information about the flight services and Handa’s qualifications.
“Something didn’t seem right,” Azami said.
In the course of the exchange on Facebook Messenger supplied to The Canadian Press, Handa said passengers and pilots on board would be insured and the plane was maintained up to Transport Canada’s standards.
Handa told Azami charters to anywhere in Canada cost $300 an hour per person and the plane had capacity for two to three passengers.
He shared a copy of his redacted licence, showing a commercial pilot licence designation for small and multi-engine land aircraft.
Azami said that type of certification would allow Handa to work for hire with either an approved airline or on a commercially registered aircraft, but not a privately registered one.
Records from the Official Canadian Civil Aircraft Register database shows the aircraft was registered for private use.
Transport Canada said it was made aware in December 2021 that a private pilot was offering air taxi services and it started looking into the matter immediately, but it could not share any further details because it involved third-party information.
Generally speaking, however, the agency said that someone with a private pilot’s licence can only fly a plane “of a class and type in respect to which the licence is endorsed.” The same is true for a pilot with a commercial licence who is providing commercial air services.
To carry paying passengers, a company must take the extra steps of applying to Transport Canada for an air operator certificate, then apply for a domestic licence to operate an air transport service between destinations with the Canadian Transportation Agency.
- Amy Smart, The Canadian Press