ALG research has confirmed that the FAA identifies a company called West Isle Air, Inc. as the FAA registered certificate holder for the De Havilland Otter Seaplane, N725TH, which was involved in the accident off Whidbey Island on September 4, 2022. The Federal Aviation Regulation, Part 135, requires that operators obtain FAA Part 135 certificates after review and approval. N725TH was operated under the Part 135 certificate held by West Isle Air, Inc., a Washington Corporation. Interestingly, the same three persons identified as governors for West Isle Air are also governors for Northwest Seaplanes, Inc.
While the Northwest Seaplanes website states: “All flights are operated by Friday Harbors Seaplanes,” Friday Harbor Seaplanes is not listed as a registered business on the Washington Secretary of State’s Corporations website. Even though a “doing business as” (dba) name can be used, it is unclear if that was publicly disclosed.
Of interest is that there are two separate websites, one for Friday Harbor Seaplanes and one for Northwest Seaplanes. The Friday Harbor site only sells scheduled flights to and from Seattle and San Juan Island. The Northwest Seaplanes site sells the same flights but also offers scheduled flights to and from numerous locations in British Columbia, throughout the San Juan Islands, and chartered flights to more destinations (including hundreds of destinations through BC’s inside passage). However, if these Northwest Seaplane routes are “operated by Friday Harbor Seaplanes,” why aren’t they offered on Friday Harbor Seaplanes’ website? The better question is, why is Northwest Seaplanes advertising and selling flights on its separate website when it is not a Part 135 certified operator? Also, why are the flights authorized under the Part 135 certificate held by West Isle Air, Inc., but claimed by Northwest to be Friday Harbor operations?
Further research discovered that N725TH is owned by Northwest Seaplanes, Inc., not West Isle Air. Thus, operating the aircraft under West Isle Air’s part 135 certificate normally requires an aircraft operational lease agreement.
While it is not currently known if these revelations have any relationship to the accident itself, we suspect that there was a corporate effort to keep aircraft operations separate from aircraft ownership (5 of the 6 planes under West Isle Air’s part 135 certificate are owned by Northwest Seaplanes, Inc., and the 6th is owned by a related company C&P Aircraft Leasing, LLC).
Why would aircraft owners and operators form multiple companies for their air carrier business? Most likely to try to protect valuable aircraft assets (in one company) from claims of negligent aircraft operation (from another company). Yet, there are ways to get around such protections, depending on the specific facts of each case.