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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Airplane Tampering Allegations Draw Objections, Responses

Two people named in a letter to the editor from Menominee pilot Joe Ciochetto that was printed in last week's Peshtigo Times have objected to statements it contained.

Others involved with airport operations, including Menominee County Sheriff Kenny Marks, said some things need to be clarified in regard to allegations by Ciochetto that someone had deliberately placed metal shavings in the engine of his plane.

In his letter, Ciochetto, whose plane is generally hangared at the Menominee Regional Airport (formerly Twin County Airport), alleged that someone had tampered it. He said an M&M Aviation mechanic at the Delta County Airport in Escanaba found a significant amount of metal shavings in the engine of his Cessna 172 plane, and added, ""it was determined the shavings were foreign and could not have come from my engine, but had to have been deliberately put in my engine."

He said after finding fine metal shavings in his engine oil screen he took the plane out of service. He then flew it to the Delta County Airport to get the repairs done, reported the matter to Michigan State Police, and filed a formal complaint with the FAA (Federal Aviation Agency) hotline in Washington, DC. He said he was assured his complaints would be thoroughly investigated.

Ciochetto said the Cessna he owns is a "flying club" plane used for flying lessons and by other pilots in the club, and the situation jeopardized not only his life, but the lives of "many pilots ranging in age from 16 to 70."

Completely unrelated to this issue, Marks will be taking on more responsibility for enforcing ordinances, rules and regulations at the county owned airport. He said some of that responsibility is his anyway as county sheriff, but he is more than willing to do his part on other issues, such as safety planning, regulation enforcement , etc. Interim Airport Manager Jeff LaFleur welcomes this assistance, since Marks can issue citations and has other means of enforcing regulations.

Marks said Michigan State Police had informed him last week that they had found the Ciochetto's complaint unfounded and closed the case. "There was just plain flat out no evidence that engine had been deliberately damaged," Marks declared. He repeated, "The State Police are no longer investigating. It is a closed case."

Meanwhile, Dr. Jeff O'Rear of Peshtigo, secretary of Twin County Pilot's Association, confirmed Monday that members are considering sponsoring a $5,000 reward for information leading to arrest and conviction of any person or persons who tampered with Ciochetto's plane. O'Rear said the Pilot's Association has a flying club lease relationship with Ciochetto through which members are allowed the privilege of renting his plane for personal use.

In his letter Ciochetto said an FAA investigator had told him two individuals, Patrick Schmidt and Airport Interim Manager Jeff LaFleur, in September and October of this year had filed complaints against him, accusing him of flying "an unairworthy aircraft." He said no violations were ever found. He said his Cessna is a club plane that has always had annual inspections by licensed and certified aircraft mechanics.

Several of Ciochetto's statements were challenged by Schmidt, who denied that he had ever filed a complaint against Ciochetto. "I never called them," he declared. He said one day in early September a person with the Michigan Department of Transportation Aviation Department in Marquette, Mich., called him and started asking questions. Schmidt said he told the caller he had been taking private flying lessons from Ciochetto, one-on-one, and was not ever a member of a flying club.

Schmidt told the Peshtigo Times he invested $3,437.50 in the flying lessons with Ciochetto, but was never allowed to solo. Then he alleges Ciochetto told him he would need renter's insurance in order to solo, so he spent over $400 on that, "and when I complained he told me, "I'll see you in court.'"

Schmidt said he had been told by the DOT caller that according to Michigan files, Ciochetto had a club, but it was not registered as an organization at that time.

Schmidt suggested contacting Interim Airport Manager Jeff LaFleur for more information about regulations and costs involved with operating a flight school from the airport, as well as about requirements for a flying club.

In response to a call from the Peshtigo Times, LaFleur said he also had never filed a formal complaint with the FAA against Ciochetto, but did tell the FAA inspector that there was a problem, in that Ciochetto's flight school, or flying club, was not registered with the state at all.

"There are certain things you have to do to be legal, and he hasn't done them yet," LaFleur said. "I just want him to do it legal. First he needs to get state certification to run a flight school, then he has to approach the airport with a business plan for an operating agreement - not just a good old boy attitude. That is also a requirement of the Michigan Bureau of Aeronautics." LaFleur said old files kept by Tony Krysiak, the previous airport manage, show that he too had been writing to Joe (Ciochetto) telling him to get certified.

LaFleur said reporting concerns to the FAA is one of the responsibilities listed in his description as interim airport manager. "When you accept a job as an airport manager, what you become is a policeman for the Bureau of Aeronautics and the State of Michigan," LaFleur declared. "I have to sign off on that. If I didn't do my job, the state would come down on me."

Schmidt charged that Ciochetto has been trying for some time to accuse him and/or LaFleur of trying to make trouble for him. He said by FAA rules, if the Ciochetto's motor was making metal, he was not supposed to fly it at all, and wondered why he would have risked his life to fly it to the Delta County Airport.

Ciochetto has been embroiled in previous disputes involving the airport, and was a member of the Twin County Airport Commission during a time of major controversies several years ago.

LaFleur wondered just who Ciochetto was trying to accuse, and wondered if he is alleging that shavings were put into his engine at Menominee, why he would have risked flying it to Escanaba "That airplane sits in a locked hangar - I don't even have the keys to it," LeFleur declared.

He said for Ciochetto to get a flight school certificate he would need to pay about $25 for a flight certificate from the state, and an agreement with the airport that might cost $150 a year, and provide proof of sufficient insurance. He said rental and flight instructor planes also need to have inspections after every 100 hours of flight time, rather than the once a year inspection required for private planes. He said by Bureau of Aeronautics definition, a flying club plane is an aircraft owned by every member of the club.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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