FAA grounding part installed on jet that killed Louisville City FC founder and 2 others

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's been almost six months since a private jet crashed in southern Indiana, killing all three people on board.

Wayne Estopinal, a beloved architect, entrepreneur, humanitarian and founder of Louisville City FC, Andrew Davis, who his attorney described as an "absolutely excellent" pilot with "extraordinary" experience, and Sandra Johnson, a marketing executive who worked at Estopinal's architecture firm, all died shortly after leaving a Clark County, Ind., airport.

Ever since the crash, federal investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board have been trying to figure out why the plane crashed. However, from the start, Joseph Slama, the Fort Lauderdale-based attorney for the pilot's widow, has had a theory that a part installed on Estopinal's plane was to blame: an upgrade called "active winglets."

"A winglet is a piece that fits on the end — a vertical piece," Travis Kircher, a private pilot and WDRB News employee, said in April. "A winglet reduces the drag."

Kircher said winglets are installed to help pilots fly farther with less gas.

"Pilots want to fly fuel-efficient aircraft the same way anyone would want to drive a fuel-efficient car," he said.

Records show Estopinal had Idaho-based Tamarack Aerospace Group install the active winglet system in May 2018. According to Tom Ellis, an investigator for the Estopinal estate, Estopinal was one of the first active winglet customers.

Wayne Estopinal

Wayne Estopinal

Another maintenance record shows the winglet system was repaired on Nov. 20, 2018.

"The first thing we looked at was these winglets," Slama said. "We feel that the evidence will show that these winglets were not operating properly."

Last month, the European Union's version of the FAA, known as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, sent out an emergency airworthiness directive about the active winglet system, writing "occurrences have been reported in which (they) appear to have malfunctioned," causing situations where some pilots "had difficulty" recovering planes "to safe flight."

"The U.S. FAA should do the same so that there are not aircrafts still flying with these winglets active," Ellis said at the time. "Not only is it a danger to those who are flying and aboard the aircraft, it would be fortuitous as to where one of these aircraft came down."

On Friday, five weeks later, the United States will also ground Cessna Citation planes equipped with the active winglets in question. By the FAA's estimation, the grounding will affect about 76 aircraft in all.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) said the FAA's decision is in direct response to Europe's decision to do so and the crash that killed Estopinal and two others. According to the FAA, the directive will prohibit all flight until "a modification has been incorporated" that the FAA finds acceptable.

"AOPA is examining ... why it took the FAA five weeks to follow suit," the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association wrote.

Clark County Plane Crash Scene

Wayne Estopinal and two others died in the crash in November 2018.

Slama said that despite the delay, it's an important decision.

"This is of highest importance to the safety of folks flying in these aircraft, and actually, people living under these aircraft," he said. "You can't emphasize enough the safety aspect."

The manufacturer of the active winglets, Tamarack, hasn't yet responded to a request for comment.

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