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FAA nixes Michael Steel's seaplane for small rudder crack

New Union-Tribune co-owner donates to Nikki Haley campaign

Michael Steel thinks his rudder trouble isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Michael Steel thinks his rudder trouble isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Rudder and stick

A San Diego aviator whose company made the seaplane featured in Kevin Costner’s movie Waterworld has lost his appeal to the National Transportation Safety Board of an administrative judge’s ruling in June 2022 that revoked his commercial flying license. The decision was handed down in a July 24 Opinion and Order against Michael Steel of San Diego Seaplanes. The saga began back on February 27, 2020, when Federal Aviation Administration inspectors cited a raft of maintenance issues with Steel’s Helio H-295 seaplane, in which he piloted tourists on sightseeing trips around the harbor and coast. Instead of grounding the plane until the problems were fixed, according to the NTSB document, Steel took off on March 1, 2020, from El Cajon’s Gillespie Field to San Diego Bay. The same day, according to the opinion, Steel “served as the pilot-in-command of [the seaplane] on an air tour with four passengers aboard, taking off and landing in San Diego Bay.” He “concluded that day by serving as the pilot-in-command on a flight from San Diego Bay back to Gillespie Field Airport.”

Two days later, FAA inspectors returned to inspect the seaplane’s logs, subsequently determining that the plane “was not approved for return to service prior to the flights on March 1, 2020.”

A so-called sanction hearing was held by an administrative law judge on June 22, 2022. At the hearing, Steel, according to the NTSB document, “began his testimony by explaining his piloting career. He stated that he flew his first solo flight at 16 years old in 1977 and obtained his private pilot license in 1978. He stated that he obtained his commercial pilot, ground instructor, and flight instructor certificates with multiple ratings in 1979-1980. He stated that during that time, he flew aerobatics and did aerobatic training.

“He indicated that he ‘aced’ his written tests and saved lives when he was flying search and rescue. He added that he has ‘literally taught thousands’ of people to fly safely, including military personnel. His aviation career also included flying for Hollywood movie productions and piloting a replica of the A-1 Triad in the centennial celebration of Naval aviation.” In addition, Steel “noted that during all his years of flying, he has never had a single incident where an aircraft was damaged, had an insurance claim or any passengers were injured.”

On cross-examination, according to the NTSB ruling, Steel “testified that the rudder on [his seaplane] was not broken, but there was a crack on it. He further stated that if the crack was substantial, then you should not fly until it is fixed. He testified that the crack on his rudder had been there for two years but was small and the rudder was still fully functional. He agreed that he continued to fly [the seaplane] with passengers onboard, knowing the crack was there for two years, but insisted the crack did not affect the functioning of the rudder. He also agreed that when he was instructing new pilots, he would advise them to repair a cracked rudder.” He also “testified that he disagreed with the February 27, 2020, condition notice and insisted that [the seaplane] was airworthy.”

In denying Steel’s appeal, the four-member NTSB board (there is currently one vacancy on the panel) concluded: “We have explained that ‘an airman displaying such negative compliance disposition lacks the care, judgment, and responsibility required of a certificate holder because the likelihood of his adherence to regulatory requirements adopted to promote air safety cannot be predicted with any degree of confidence.’ In addition to the non-compliance disposition, [Steel] had multiple violations concerning inspections and flight review and recency requirements, which the law judge appropriately found to ‘further bolster the basis for revocation.’”

Reached by phone last week, Steel blasted the NTSB and FAA, questioning the agencies’ integrity and disputing the accuracy of charges related in the NTSB ruling, over which he threatened to file a series of lawsuits against the government.

U-T’s non-Trumpian GOP master

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Alden Global Capital co-proprietor Randall Smith, whose vulture investing outfit took over the Union-Tribune last month from liberal L.A. Patrick Soon-Shiong and quickly began slashing the already-weak-from-hunger payroll, hasn’t been as miserly with a certain Republican presidential candidate not named Donald Trump. Smith’s Partridge Investments LLC has kicked in a substantial $300,000 to SFA Fund, Inc., a super PAC backing ex-United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley’s 2024 presidential campaign bid, the Washington Post reported in an August 11 post.

Randall Smith: funding a Haley Mary?

Meanwhile, Smith and Alden Global co-owner Heath Freeman have put a swanky Montauk, Long Island oceanfront mansion on the market for a cool $27.5 million, according to an August 10 dispatch by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. “The six-bedroom home, at 40 Deforest Road, looms over the public Ditch Plains Beach — on the site of the former East Deck Motel,” per the story. “It’s one of four lots that are about an acre each where the low-rise motel, formerly populated by surfers, once stood.”

Added the item: “Designed by architect Boris Baranovich, details include white oak floors, two gas fireplaces, sliding glass doors that open to decks, plus stairs that lead down to the iconic beach and surfer haven.” But the lavish spec house, the first of possibly three, did not come without political skullduggery, the paper noted. “The town of East Hampton changed zoning laws to allow the homes to be built despite public opposition that had already shut down a prior investment group’s — led by Vitamin Water’s J. Darius Bikoff — plan to build a private club on the site of the former motel, which was demolished in 2016.”

The mega-mansion was the target of a New York Times expose last September 2. “The house is not the size of the mansion belonging to that fictional Long Islander Jay Gatsby, but it’s close. It looms over the public parking lot where the Ditch Witch food truck has served egg wraps and burritos since 1994. It looms over the surfers who ride the clean, consistent waves that break past the jetty.”

Added the Times: “In its branding, Montauk Colony echoes Malibu Colony, the beach community near Los Angeles. Once a charmingly bedraggled surfer’s Mecca, Malibu is now one of the most expensive and celebrity-studded communities in the world. This spring, Michael Eisner listed a house on the Malibu bluffs for $225 million. If Montauk becomes another Malibu, the roughly $30 million spent in recent years on the land overlooking Ditch Plains Beach may turn out to be a bargain for the LLCs and executives affiliated with Alden, Smith Management and Elliott Management.”

— Matt Potter

(@sdmattpotter)

The Reader offers $25 for news tips published in this column. Call our voice mail at 619-235-3000, ext. 440, or sandiegoreader.com/staff/matt-potter/contact/.

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Michael Steel thinks his rudder trouble isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Michael Steel thinks his rudder trouble isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Rudder and stick

A San Diego aviator whose company made the seaplane featured in Kevin Costner’s movie Waterworld has lost his appeal to the National Transportation Safety Board of an administrative judge’s ruling in June 2022 that revoked his commercial flying license. The decision was handed down in a July 24 Opinion and Order against Michael Steel of San Diego Seaplanes. The saga began back on February 27, 2020, when Federal Aviation Administration inspectors cited a raft of maintenance issues with Steel’s Helio H-295 seaplane, in which he piloted tourists on sightseeing trips around the harbor and coast. Instead of grounding the plane until the problems were fixed, according to the NTSB document, Steel took off on March 1, 2020, from El Cajon’s Gillespie Field to San Diego Bay. The same day, according to the opinion, Steel “served as the pilot-in-command of [the seaplane] on an air tour with four passengers aboard, taking off and landing in San Diego Bay.” He “concluded that day by serving as the pilot-in-command on a flight from San Diego Bay back to Gillespie Field Airport.”

Two days later, FAA inspectors returned to inspect the seaplane’s logs, subsequently determining that the plane “was not approved for return to service prior to the flights on March 1, 2020.”

A so-called sanction hearing was held by an administrative law judge on June 22, 2022. At the hearing, Steel, according to the NTSB document, “began his testimony by explaining his piloting career. He stated that he flew his first solo flight at 16 years old in 1977 and obtained his private pilot license in 1978. He stated that he obtained his commercial pilot, ground instructor, and flight instructor certificates with multiple ratings in 1979-1980. He stated that during that time, he flew aerobatics and did aerobatic training.

“He indicated that he ‘aced’ his written tests and saved lives when he was flying search and rescue. He added that he has ‘literally taught thousands’ of people to fly safely, including military personnel. His aviation career also included flying for Hollywood movie productions and piloting a replica of the A-1 Triad in the centennial celebration of Naval aviation.” In addition, Steel “noted that during all his years of flying, he has never had a single incident where an aircraft was damaged, had an insurance claim or any passengers were injured.”

On cross-examination, according to the NTSB ruling, Steel “testified that the rudder on [his seaplane] was not broken, but there was a crack on it. He further stated that if the crack was substantial, then you should not fly until it is fixed. He testified that the crack on his rudder had been there for two years but was small and the rudder was still fully functional. He agreed that he continued to fly [the seaplane] with passengers onboard, knowing the crack was there for two years, but insisted the crack did not affect the functioning of the rudder. He also agreed that when he was instructing new pilots, he would advise them to repair a cracked rudder.” He also “testified that he disagreed with the February 27, 2020, condition notice and insisted that [the seaplane] was airworthy.”

In denying Steel’s appeal, the four-member NTSB board (there is currently one vacancy on the panel) concluded: “We have explained that ‘an airman displaying such negative compliance disposition lacks the care, judgment, and responsibility required of a certificate holder because the likelihood of his adherence to regulatory requirements adopted to promote air safety cannot be predicted with any degree of confidence.’ In addition to the non-compliance disposition, [Steel] had multiple violations concerning inspections and flight review and recency requirements, which the law judge appropriately found to ‘further bolster the basis for revocation.’”

Reached by phone last week, Steel blasted the NTSB and FAA, questioning the agencies’ integrity and disputing the accuracy of charges related in the NTSB ruling, over which he threatened to file a series of lawsuits against the government.

U-T’s non-Trumpian GOP master

Sponsored
Sponsored

Alden Global Capital co-proprietor Randall Smith, whose vulture investing outfit took over the Union-Tribune last month from liberal L.A. Patrick Soon-Shiong and quickly began slashing the already-weak-from-hunger payroll, hasn’t been as miserly with a certain Republican presidential candidate not named Donald Trump. Smith’s Partridge Investments LLC has kicked in a substantial $300,000 to SFA Fund, Inc., a super PAC backing ex-United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley’s 2024 presidential campaign bid, the Washington Post reported in an August 11 post.

Randall Smith: funding a Haley Mary?

Meanwhile, Smith and Alden Global co-owner Heath Freeman have put a swanky Montauk, Long Island oceanfront mansion on the market for a cool $27.5 million, according to an August 10 dispatch by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. “The six-bedroom home, at 40 Deforest Road, looms over the public Ditch Plains Beach — on the site of the former East Deck Motel,” per the story. “It’s one of four lots that are about an acre each where the low-rise motel, formerly populated by surfers, once stood.”

Added the item: “Designed by architect Boris Baranovich, details include white oak floors, two gas fireplaces, sliding glass doors that open to decks, plus stairs that lead down to the iconic beach and surfer haven.” But the lavish spec house, the first of possibly three, did not come without political skullduggery, the paper noted. “The town of East Hampton changed zoning laws to allow the homes to be built despite public opposition that had already shut down a prior investment group’s — led by Vitamin Water’s J. Darius Bikoff — plan to build a private club on the site of the former motel, which was demolished in 2016.”

The mega-mansion was the target of a New York Times expose last September 2. “The house is not the size of the mansion belonging to that fictional Long Islander Jay Gatsby, but it’s close. It looms over the public parking lot where the Ditch Witch food truck has served egg wraps and burritos since 1994. It looms over the surfers who ride the clean, consistent waves that break past the jetty.”

Added the Times: “In its branding, Montauk Colony echoes Malibu Colony, the beach community near Los Angeles. Once a charmingly bedraggled surfer’s Mecca, Malibu is now one of the most expensive and celebrity-studded communities in the world. This spring, Michael Eisner listed a house on the Malibu bluffs for $225 million. If Montauk becomes another Malibu, the roughly $30 million spent in recent years on the land overlooking Ditch Plains Beach may turn out to be a bargain for the LLCs and executives affiliated with Alden, Smith Management and Elliott Management.”

— Matt Potter

(@sdmattpotter)

The Reader offers $25 for news tips published in this column. Call our voice mail at 619-235-3000, ext. 440, or sandiegoreader.com/staff/matt-potter/contact/.

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