Cardiff call for Emiliano Sala flights probe

Cardiff City have backed calls for an investigation into flights  arranged by Willie McKay as part of Emiliano Sala’s tragic transfer.

Concerns were raised on Tuesday over whether the flights were properly licensed following the emergence of remarkable new details about journeys McKay last month confirmed that he and his agent son, Mark, had organised in the build-up to Sala’s fatal flight.

The Telegraph can also disclose that a plane previously piloted by the lead singer of Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson – which was even once branded with his name and the band’s insignia – had been used to fly Sala to and from Cardiff for contract talks.

And it emerged that another flight arranged by McKay while he was helping broker Sala’s £15 million move to Cardiff from Nantes, had been piloted by the heir to the stately home from the television series Downton Abbey, Lord Porchester.

This and other information was provided to The Telegraph by aviation trade body the Air Charter  Association (Baca), which obtained it as part of the ongoing concerns about the Jan 21 flight that killed Sala. Baca claimed the data around what were 10 trips arranged by McKay warranted a “full investigation” by the Civil Aviation Authority.

That was “welcomed” last night by Cardiff, who also called for  “industry-wide, enforceable safeguards to be put in place to ensure no further tragedies occur”.

The Baca data shows that, like Sala’s fatal flight, all the journeys  arranged as part of the striker’s transfer were non-commercial, and therefore subject to strict rules  governing their funding.

The first of them, which Cardiff manager Neil Warnock took to watch Sala play on Dec 5, was booked through a company called FlexiFly. Bob Matthews, who took McKay’s booking, confirmed the trip to and from Nantes had been organised on a perfectly-lawful leasing basis. The next flight organised by the Scot on Jan 8 – again as part of a scouting trip by Warnock to watch Sala – was booked through Guernsey-based Channel Jets. The private charter company was launched in 2016 by Aeris Aviation, the chairman of which is Dickinson. According to the Baca data, the plane to and from Nantes was flown by Dickinson’s chief executive, David Hayman.

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The data also shows McKay used Channel Jets twice more, firstly for Sala’s contract talks in which Dickinson’s one-time Iron Maiden-branded plane was used, and then again for the Argentine’s medical.

The Scot has previously claimed he would have used Hayman again for Sala’s final trip to say goodbye to his Nantes team-mates but the pilot was unavailable.

Asked about the licensing of Channel Jets’ flights for McKay, Hayman referred The Telegraph to the CAA, saying “all data” on them had been provided to the regulator.

McKay also ignored requests for comment on how they were funded, having previously confirmed in writing that at least two of them were “paid for” by his son, Mark.

The Scot admitted last month paying the full cost of the flight that Sala and pilot Dave Ibbotson were on when it crashed, rather than on the cost-sharing  basis stipulated by regulations  governing the trip. McKay has  repeatedly stated the journey was booked via Dave Henderson – an experienced light-aircraft pilot who had flown him around Europe on many occasions – and that he had no input into the selection of pilot or plane. Henderson has yet to comment on any of McKay’s claims and attempts to reach him have been unsuccessful.

The only other trip not arranged through Channel Jets was undertaken by Lord Porchester, who  confirmed he had flown Sala’s personal agent, Meissa N’Diaye, back to Paris from Cardiff following his client’s medical.

Lord Porchester is the son of the Earl of Carnarvon, and the heir to Highclere Castle, and owns a Piper light aircraft similar to that involved in Sala’s fatal flight. He stated he had received no payment for the trip – something which would make it entirely lawful.

But the chief executive of Baca, Dave Edwards, said his concerns over flights organised by McKay  extended beyond their legality.

He said: “Commercial flights  operate under an entirely different framework to private ones. With a private flight, it is just one pilot there to protect the travelling  public. There is no behind-the-scenes depth and breadth to the safety management.

“The travelling public need a fuller and better understanding of the additional risks they are putting themselves under when they choose any option other than a commercial charter flight.”

The CAA refused to comment on whether it would investigate the other McKay-organised flights or was already doing so.