The family of the footballer Emiliano Sala, who died in a plane crash 14 months ago, has strongly criticised the length of time it is taking the UK aviation regulator to investigate the tragedy.
Relatives of the Argentinian striker are also angry at what they see as a lack of teeth from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in prosecuting the sort of unlicensed flight that Sala was taking at the time of his death.
Last week the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) concluded that neither the pilot nor the plane involved were licensed to carry passengers commercially.
The CAA is continuing to investigate if any aviation offences were committed. At a pre-inquest review on Monday in Bournemouth, the CAA said its investigation could take the rest of this year, which would cause Sala’s full inquest to be delayed. The inquest is due to take place in March next year and last up to five weeks.
As Sala’s family listened to proceedings from Argentina via Skype, their lawyer, Matthew Reeve, said it was “unacceptable” that the CAA was taking so long.
Reeve said the AAIB had identified the illegality of the flight with “clarity and precision”, adding: “It’s there on a plate … their [the CAA’s] proposed timetable is inexplicably languid.”
Reeve criticised the CAA’s record in prosecuting unlicensed pilots and operators over so-called “grey flights”. The AAIB highlighted that such flights were common in the world of sport, business and leisure.
But Reeve claimed that between 2016 and 2018, there were only 17 successful prosecutions by the CAA. None had gone beyond the magistrates courts and all had only resulted in fines. None appeared to be connected to grey flights.
Reeve claimed that the full inquest might look at whether people involved in grey flights were prosecuted with “sufficient vigour” and if the regulations were fit for purpose.
He said the family’s priority was for there to be a full inquest as soon as possible. “They dearly and earnestly wish for the earliest possible hearing date,” Reeve said.
Sala, 28, was being flown from Nantes in France to his new club, Cardiff City, when the aircraft piloted by David Ibbotson, 59, from Lincolnshire, plunged into the Channel.
Ibbotson’s widow, Nora, told the inquest that she supported the Sala family position that the CAA investigation should conclude as quickly as possible.
At Monday’s hearing, Cardiff City was made an “interested person” in the proceedings, meaning it will have the right to actively participate.
Representing the club, Lloyd Williams QC said the question of who employed Sala at the time of his death was likely to form part of the inquest.
Williams told the inquest that the club had not arranged the flight, adding: “Our position is that he was not at the time of his death employed by the club and that the journey that resulted in his death was not connected to any employee of the club.”
Reeve said the family did not accept Sala was not employed by the club but said that even so, it was legitimate to examine what Cardiff City knew about the flight, as the club could have had a duty of care to the player.
Other people made interested persons by the senior coroner for Dorset, Rachael Griffin, included the owner of the plane, the operator, manufacturer and the person or people who arranged the flight. The coroner did not name the interested people.
Griffin asked the CAA to work as quickly as possible. She said it was possible that she would sit with a jury when the full inquest takes place.