Longform

The Last Flight Plan

Page 6 of 6

In 1995 the airline's losses were colossal, totalling about $936,000, though revenues had soared to $150 million. Rich's general counsel, Mark Scheer, says that Meenan's business philosophy is to reinvest the profits in the company. But Linda Harrington alleges she's found plenty of examples of waste and poor management that explain the losses.

Harrington also alleges that the company has adopted questionable maintenance routines inherited from Batchelor, whose own charter airline, Arrow Air, has been shut down three times in response to the FAA's safety concerns. Most recently, in May 1995, Arrow agreed to shut down after an FAA investigation found that the airline had used unapproved foreign parts on some of its planes. The agency pulled the airline's certification, demanded a $1.5 million payment for its costs, and eventually recertified it after it fired five employees and re-established safety procedures.

Shortly after the FAA threatened to pull Arrow's operating certificate, however, Rich International also admitted, in a March 1995 letter to the agency, that it, too, had used unapproved parts on some of its planes. The matter languished for more than a year. Then this past May, after a ValuJet craft crashed in the Everglades, public outcry pressured the FAA to increase its scrutiny of low-cost air services. A month later FAA officials made an unusual public announcement of its intention to fine Rich International some $2.6 million. The charge: Airline employees had installed 75 unapproved parts from foreign planes on six of the L1011 aircraft it leases from Batchelor. Those six planes were not considered airworthy when flying "hundreds" of flights between March 1993 and March 1995, according to FAA documents. (The company will have an opportunity to contest both the fine and the investigative findings that prompted it.)

"By allowing Batchelor to supply Rich with planes, parts, and equipment through his various entities, Meenan has put Rich at risk of FAA action," Harrington charged in her April 1995 lawsuit against Meenan. Given the similarity between Arrow's and Rich's FAA record, Harrington's charge now seems almost prophetic.

Harrington says she's not done yet. After complaining over the years about alleged maintenance gaps and safety risks, she gave Meenan an ultimatum in a letter this past May: Investigate and solve the problems, or she'll go to the authorities.

Scheer answered with threats of his own, calling her warning a "self-serving" tirade and an attempt to "manipulate the affairs of the company for her own benefit."

Harrington shot back a letter to Scheer reiterating her threat: "I will wait no longer than 5:00 p.m. on Friday, the 17th of May, 1996, before passing all in my possession to the appropriate authorities."

Today Harrington says she's aware that federal regulators are investigating Rich International Airways, but she will not comment further. The investigation could shut down the airline and Harrington knows it. But she pushes on, hoping to oust Meenan and replace him with what she considers more professional management. And she continues to repeat her mantra: "I am Jean Rich's daughter, first and foremost.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paula Park