In an odd story, the FAA has suspended imports of light sport aircraft (LSA) made by Slovenia-based Pipistrel Aircraft after apparently failing to locate one of its factories using Google Earth. According to Michael Coates, who is in charge of US distribution, the FAA bureaucrat who looked for the plant on Google Earth typed in the wrong data and was sent to a traffic circle because the plant’s mailing address is about 1,000 feet away from the plant.
Below is the zoomed out shot of where Google Earth will take you when you type in “Pipistrel Aircraft” or the company’s address:
As you can see, there is an airport or airfield just above the marker plus there are some pictures of the area available for those who bother to click on them but apparently if you are a bureaucrat for the FAA, it won’t occur to you that you might need to zoom out or that the Google Earth pin might be in the wrong spot.
Pipistrel Aircraft says it has since provided ample proof that their factory does exist but trying to contact anyone at the FAA has been nearly impossible. And if someone does actually answer the phone, they usually say that the issue is under review but there is no timeframe for a resolution. Hence, Coates apparently has made Senator Jim Inhofe aware of the issue and has him knocking on doors in Washington DC (no doubt in the hopes that there is someone on the other side who actually answers…)
Its worth noting that Slovenia does not have a bilateral agreement with the US concerning aircraft certification – meaning it cannot export aircraft to the US. For that reason, Pipistrel set up a manufacturing facility across the border in Italy to manufacture aircraft bound for the US market and the company has offered to fly FAA officials at its own expense to prove that the plant exists.
Of course, there could be more to the story than just inept Google Earth challenged FAA bureaucrats as back in July, the agency announced a crackdown on alleged importation abuses in the LSA industry. In other words, perhaps the FAA simply does not want to allow Pipistrel Aircraft to export aircraft to the US market.