In order to avoid a long and costly legal battle, the pilot whose powered paraglider was confiscated after he flew it over Hualapai reservation land is paying fines and admitting guilt, according to March 14 reports in several Arizona newspapers.
Lionel De Antoni admitted to “trespassing and endangerment” and agreed to pay a $500 fine for his Dec. 30 flight over the area, the Hualapai tribe’s lawyer said in a written statement to media. “I don’t agree with that, but I don’t have a choice,” De Antoni told Arizona Sun reporter Cyndy Cole. “A lawyer would have taken a long time. I just have to bite the bullet.” He said he intends to retrieve his $10,000 paraglider and camera equipment from the Hualapai on March 16 and return to recreational flying. His “day job” is conducting bus tours in the Grand Canyon National Park.
The Hualapai claimed that De Antoni’s flight over tribal land was a form of trespassing and that he interfered with the flight paths of other aircraft bound for the reservation’s airport. “Mr. De Antoni admitted to the Tribe that he flew recklessly and placed pilots and passengers in other aircraft at substantial risk of imminent bodily harm,” tribe attorney Paul K. Charlton said in the written statement. De Antoni stated that there was no risk of a collision between his ultralight and other aircraft. He said he was half a mile from the nearest airplane and farther than that from the tribe’s airport. “They’re just overplaying the facts,” he said.
De Antoni has said that he was operating within all Federal Aviation Administration guidelines when he flew over the reservation after taking off from a point outside the reservation and, indeed, on National Park land, and returning there to land. That was where tribal police confiscated his motor-home, his camera and his aircraft immediately after the disputed flight.
The FAA, while not willing to comment on this specific case, has told media including General Aviation News that it is the job of the FAA, exclusively, to regulate the country’s airspace, and not that of any other organization. Lawyer Charlton, speaking on behalf of the Hualapai, has disagreed, saying that the tribe has the authority to regulate its airspace and prosecute those who fly through it without permits.
The case is being watched closely by private pilots such as Tom Martin of Flagstaff, Arizona, who commented: “I can not think this will bode well for GA pilots flying over the Skywalk or Hualapai land in general.” Martin and other pilots who fly over or near reservations told GA News they had hoped for a specific ruling from the FAA which would apply nationally.