Orange County Sheriffs Department Operating Surveillance Aircraft Illegally
Last updated 6:04pm — 29 June 2015
I recently wrote about the secret fleet of surveillance aircraft being flown by the Federal Government. Domestic aerial surveillance operations are also conducted by smaller law enforcement agencies, such as the Orange County Sheriffs Department. One aircraft belonging to that very agency is operating illegally according to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, and United States Code.
Every aircraft in the United States is regulated by the FAA through FAA Regulations (FAR). In order for an aircraft to be considered “legal” for flight, it must be in compliance with FAA Regulations as all owners and operators are explicitly aware. As well as federally enforceable standards, insurance companies most times will rescind coverage of an aircraft when it is found to be operating outside of the parameters of these regulations, and has not been issued a “Ferry Permit.” These are temporary permits which allow a non-airworthy aircraft to fly somewhere for repairs for example, but not operate in any long term sense. Aircraft N6045C is owned and operated by the Orange County Sheriffs Department in California, and has been in the air very recently. Following up on the recent article on the FBI surveillance fleet, it was brought to my attention that many similar flight patterns (hours of aircraft circling over populated areas) were occurring throughout the country from aircraft not belonging to the Federal government. N6045C was one such aircraft; the registration of which was shielded from the popular flight tracking website FlightRadar24.com, but a query through the FAA database showed the owners to be the Orange County Sheriffs Dept.
In bright red letters on the FAA registration page for that aircraft you’ll see “Expired,” and an expiration date of January 31st, 2014, over a year and a half in the red. What this means is that the aircraft is violating Federal rules every time it is airborne. 14 CFR 91.203 lays out in explicit detail, “no person may operate a civil aircraft unless it has within it the following: (1) An appropriate and current airworthiness certificate.” In addition to the violation of Federal rules that would place the Sheriffs Department at the mercy of Federal fines and disciplinary action, the Pilot operating the aircraft could be found guilty of a Felony. Pilots of aircraft are instructed through many hours of training to uphold a high standard for safety and thoroughness that is quite unique to the profession, and are keenly aware of the legalities of flight in this country.
The FAA website lists many frequently asked questions in regards to policy and procedures, one of which being: “Does expiration of registration affect an aircraft’s airworthiness certificate? — Because an aircraft with an expired registration is not registered, its airworthiness certification would be considered ineffective. Without registration the aircraft is not authorized for flight.” There is no exception for law enforcement or surveillance operations. Combing through FAA Regulations it is blatantly apparent that safety takes priority over almost everything else.
Public Affairs officer Lt. Jeff Hallock with the Orange County Sheriffs Office said, “this is actually an embarrassing phone call to make.” He went on to tell me that the Department was unaware of the expiration of the aircraft license due in part to a recent move and shake up within the unit responsible for the aircraft. The Sheriffs Department, in response to this investigation, reached out to the FAA who in turn have “grounded” the aircraft until the licensing is renewed.