Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Very Independent Financial Advisor

Some time ago, I ran this post regarding dubious Afghan airline KAM-Air. Since then, of course, KAM has made itself notorious in another way by flying a Boeing 737 full of passengers into a mountain. Back on the 16th of January, I mentioned that Kam's fleet included aircraft from Phoenix Aviation in Kyrgyzstan, the 727 formerly operated by Chris Barrett-Jolley, and a 727 leased from something called "Financial Advisory Group" of Sharjah and formerly Miami. However there has been no such company in Florida since 1989. After correspondence with a reader, I have learnt more about this otherwise mysterious outfit.

FAG were the owners of another 727, like 3D-JOY (21090) in Afghanistan an ex-American Airlines beast, that crashed in Cotonou, Benin with substantial loss of life on Christmas Day 2003. That aircraft, 3X-GDO serial no. 21370, was operated at the time by a Guinean firm called UTA. UTA, though, were leasing the plane first from a Swazi firm called "Alpha Omega Airways" and then from Financial Advisory Group directly. FAG apparently bought the plane from an intermediary, Pegasus Aviation, who bought it from AA in late 2001 and first tried to sell it to Ariana Afghan Airlines. Somehow this deal fell through (although the modifications to comply with two Airworthiness Directives were carried out in Afghanistan, so it must have gone there), and FAG bought the jet. First it was registered 3D-FAK in Swaziland (a frequent locale for Viktor Bout's activities) and leased to UTA, before being registered in Guinea as 3X-GDO. At UTA it replaced the immediate sister of 3D-JOY; serial no. 21089.

During a ramp check in Beirut, it was discovered that the aircraft's operating documentation was split among all these firms; the insurance policy applied to a different plane, the tech log was from Ariana, the MEL (the list of the minimum equipment required for safe operation) was the American Airlines one, later replaced by a Swazi one that hadn't been approved by the Swazi authorities. These institutional flaws complemented a long list of physical ones. None of this should be surprising; UTA's chief pilot wasn't qualified on the B727 and neither was anyone else there. The tech manager was trained on the Lockheed Tristar and DC8, and the strong impression is given that literally no management structure for 727 operations existed. When the plane failed to achieve take-off, killing dozens of people, the state of Benin asked the French government to carry out a full accident investigation.

It was the French investigation that lifted the lid on these bizarre dealings, including two further key facts. Firstly, they traced the Financial Advisors to the Virgin Islands, a tax paradise where (incidentally) a number of Jetline International planes are registered. (Unfortunately the report does not specify the British or US Virgin Islands.) Secondly, they discovered that 3X-GDO had somehow acquired two of the engines belonging to serial no. 21089, the former N862AA. This aircraft is believed to have passed through Afghan hands too (attracting the registration YA-FAL) before its stint with UTA. From there it ended up in store in Libya. Bizarrely, though, its UTA registration (Guinean) 3X-GDM was transferred to an Antonov 12 belonging to a completely different airline on another continent. Something called "President Airlines" of Cambodia - I kid you not - has it. The most recent photo of it I can find puts it in Phnom Penh on the 27th July.

It will surprise no-one that, despite its official Cambodian nature, their planes show up regularly in the UAE, in particular in Sharjah. Which is also where FAG's phone number is; the UAE Online Yellow Pages puts them under "Air Charter", next to Jet Line and Jetline. (It's 06 557 0700, for full disclosure.) Its location is in the Sharjah Airport Free Zone - just like BGIA, Air Bas, and so many others. It also seems that one Imad Saba of FAG is also associated with East/West Cargo - a Boutco that has operated into West Africa and Iraq and recently lost an Ilyushin 76 in Sudan. He is supposedly a Palestinian with US citizenship. There is also a PFLP activist of the same name, but I suspect they are not the same man.

7 comments:

IL76MAN said...

THIS OUTFIT NEVER OWNED ANY IL76 FROM WHAT I HAVE GATHERED. UTA SEEMS TO HAVE HAD LACK OF OPERATIONAL EXPERIENCE I THINK THAT WAS THE CAUSE OF THE CRASH.

Alex said...

Do you mean East-West Cargo? Or UTAGE? Or President?

Marcelo Ulla said...

I had relationship with the man in Miami in 2002 renting a gas station from Financial Advisory Group. The man was Imad Saba, a real charismatic man , he talk a lot of languages. I never believed him when he talk about the 747 that he had repairing in Opa Locka Airport. But it was true. If You need more info just write to this blog.

Marcelo Ulla said...

I know personally that man.

Anonymous said...

All,

In CAA/French officiall report they stated that B727 3X-GDO had crashed in Cotonou. According which evidence you stated taht 3D-JOY(21090) was in chrashed.

Anonymous said...

All,

It will be usefull to define which airsraft has creshed in Cotonou: 3X-GDO(21370) or 3D-JOY(21090) using official report from French CAA or Benin CAA which you can find in above subject or Alex has some different information.

Anonymous said...

Marcello Ulla and all,

I have lost track of that mistery man Imad Saba as the last news on him are from 2007 when he tried to set up a Ngazidja airline in Comoros. Anyone has any further info?

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