The Hualapai Nation tribal police have cited a pilot for flying his ultralight over tribal lands near the Gand Canyon, according to a Jan. 22 report by Cyndy Cole in the Arizona Daily Sun. After flying over the western Grand Canyon, pilot Lionel De Antoni landed to find that his motor home had been towed and tribal police were waiting for him. He was cited by Hualapai Nation police for trespassing via ultralight plane and for not buying permits to fly over the tribe’s land.
“In addition to building a walkway over the Grand Canyon in 2007 and conducting boat tours on the Colorado River, it now appears the tribe is asserting rights to the airspace over its million-acre reservation,” Cole wrote. Other pilots who frequent fly over the Grand Canyon reported no such fees, but told Cole they have had some tribal requests to avoid flying over certain cultural areas.
The Federal Aviation Administration says the tribe is overstepping its jurisdiction in fining the pilot as much as $25,000 for violating its airspace. “A tribe has no authority over airspace and cannot charge people for using it,” said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. “The federal government has sole jurisdiction over the nation’s airspace.”
“Never I set foot on the Indian land. Never,” said De Antoni, whose native language is French. De Antoni flies his ultralight for his own pleasure, he told Cole. He carries no passengers. His job is conducting tours for European visitors to the Grand Canyon by bus, mostly along the South Rim.
After having his motor home towed from non-tribal federal land, he lived for three weeks in a motel room. Now he’s looking for an attorney. “I feel bitter about the whole situation,” he said.
Following a court appearance before a tribal judge in Peach Springs on Jan. 20, De Antoni got his motor home out of impoundment, but the lawnmower-size engine of his plane and his camera are being held by the tribal police as evidence, he said. “They even said I took photos for a German magazine,” he told Cole. “I don’t know where they got that.”
As of Jan. 21, neither the tribal police chief nor the prosecutor in the case would spell out the tribe’s rules for flying over Hualapai land. They would say only that De Antoni was being prosecuted on trespassing charges and for failing to have the proper permits. The prosecutor told Cole it was a tribal matter and an ongoing case, so she would not comment on the facts.