South Florida Man Convicted and Sentenced for Operating Sightseeing Flights Without a Valid Pilot’s License
On November 6, 2018, Mario Cruise, owner and operator of South Florida Air Tours (SFAT), was sentenced in U.S. District Court, Miami, Florida to 3 years’ probation and a $200 assessment fee for operating an aircraft without a valid commercial pilot’s certificate and making false statements to FAA. As a condition of his probation, Cruise cannot own, operate, act as a consultant, be employed in, or participate in any manner in any aviation-related concern. He was indicted on May 31, 2018, and pleaded guilty to two counts of the indictment on August 17, 2018.
The investigation disclosed that Cruise advertised on Groupon and subsequently piloted numerous South Florida sightseeing flights although he lacked an FAA commercial pilot’s certificate, which is required to carry passengers for hire. Inspectors and investigators at FAA’s South Florida Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) saw him performing several sightseeing flights with paying passengers.
During the course of the investigation, Cruise provided false information to FAA about his involvement in the sightseeing operations. For example, he sent an email stating that he never acted as the pilot in command during sightseeing flights for hire. He claimed he flew people around like “friends,” and they simply shared expenses.
Cruise later admitted that he had acted as a commercial pilot on approximately 150 SFAT flights without a valid commercial pilot’s certificate and gave the Agency false information about SFAT’s operations.
Groupon records show that between February 2016 and October 2017, air travelers redeemed 1,261 sightseeing air-tour vouchers sold by SFAT.