By Alyssa J. Miller
General aviation pilots frequently band together to protect the tight-knit community from false media reports and terrorist threats. Unfortunately, some of those within the trusted GA circle take advantage of their fellow pilots, casting the industry in a negative light.
Such is the case with private pilot and aviation parts broker Mario Enrique Mercier, who was sentenced to eight years in jail on March 21 after being found guilty on Oct. 15, 2007, of charges including the sale or receipt of stolen property and interstate transportation of stolen property.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida reports that from 2004 to 2006, “Mercier burglarized or was involved in the burglarizing of aircraft at more than 20 private airports in at least eight states.” This was his ninth conviction, according to the press release.
In addition to jail time, Mercier, 44, of Florida, was sentenced to three years of supervised release.
“It’s sad but true: We need to protect our aircraft—not just from terrorists—but from criminal activity as well,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “And that’s why every pilot at every airport should follow the guidelines in AOPA’s Airport Watch Program.”
Airport Watch is modeled after the popular Neighborhood Watch program. With the motto “Lock up. Look out,” pilots are encouraged to lock their aircraft and hangars and be vigilant for suspicious activity.
“If you see an unfamiliar person somewhere he or she shouldn’t be on the airport, casually approach the person and strike up a conversation to find out what’s going on,” said Cebula. “If you are still suspicious, report the situation to airport management.”
Earlier this year, AOPA mailed Airport Watch material to all Civil Air Patrol and Experimental Aviation Association chapters, Aircraft Electronics Association members, privately owned U.S. airports, flight schools, and FBOs. In April, the association sent the materials to the Transportation Security Administration’s federal security directors in each state.
AOPA also handed out prop locks at Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Fla., last week. One of the winners, Victor Romley, of Connecticut, said he couldn’t wait to use the prop lock on his SportCruiser that is supposed to be delivered to him in May.
“It’s something I really wanted because I don’t want to leave the plane unsecured,” Romley said.
“Victor has the right attitude. Pilots and aircraft owners can’t allow themselves to think ‘It won't happen to me,’” Cebula said. “It can happen, but locking your aircraft and watching for suspicious activity at the airport will serve as a deterrent.”
April 17, 2008