Monday, March 26, 2012
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Direct Air: Information for Consumers Regarding the Cessation of Operations by Southern Sky Air Tours d/b/a Myrtle Beach Direct Air and Tours
Office of the Secretary
Information for Consumers Regarding the
Cessation of Operations by Southern Sky Air Tours
d/b/a Myrtle Beach Direct Air and Tours
(as of March 16, 2012)
On or about March 13, 2012, Southern Sky Air Tours, d/b/a Myrtle Beach Direct Air and Tours (Direct Air) ― a public charter operator ― ceased operations. Direct Air has subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts (Worcester)(Case no. 12-40944). Set forth below are certain alternatives available to Direct Air customers.
Direct Air was authorized by the Department to operate public charter flights between numerous cities and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and points in Florida. Under Department regulations, Direct Air has in place an escrow account into which all charter participant funds were to be deposited until payment was made to the airline that was to perform their charter flights. The Department is investigating the handling of that escrow account. In addition, as required by Department rules, Direct Air has in place a surety bond in the amount of $200,000 protecting charter participant payments.
The company has announced that it intends to restart operations as of May 15, 2012; however, the company currently does not have authority to do so and that announcement does not affect consumers who currently are in mid-trip or who had paid for but had not yet begun travel under the current program that has been canceled.
At this time, it is unclear whether consumers who have completed the outbound portion of their trip and need to return home will be provided return transportation by Direct Air, but we have been advised that the company is working with the airlines involved with its charter program to provide return flights. Direct Air has established a toll-free number that should be operational at the time of publication of this fact sheet to provide consumers more information about this matter. That number is 1-855-888-8090.
Obtaining a Refund
Consumers affected by Direct Air’s cessation of service who are due a refund need to be able to prove to the escrow bank and surety bond company that they purchased charter air transportation or an air charter tour package from Direct Air. Acceptable proof might include a Direct Air receipt or invoice, or possibly the consumer’s credit card purchase record.
Under Department rules, consumers may request a refund from Direct Air by writing to the company at 1600 Oak Street, Suite B, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577, with a copy sent to the company’s escrow depository bank, Valley National Bank, at 1455 Valley Road, Wayne, NJ 07470. When we receive directions on how and where to file bankruptcy claims, we will revise this fact sheet.
Consumers may also be able to recover funds by making a claim under Direct Air’s surety bond. The bond number is 41060098. The holder of Direct Air’s surety bond is Platte Insurance Company. Platte River Insurance Company may be contacted via U.S. mail at P.O. Box 5900, Madison, WI 53705; via fax at 608-829-7451; or via email at email@example.com. In addition, Platte River Insurance Company has established a toll-free phone number to provide information regarding procedures for filing claims, 1-800-475-4450 ext. 4284. Claims made under the surety bond must be made within 60 days of the date of the originally-scheduled return air transportation. Claims are limited to the amount paid by the consumer for the charter air transportation or air charter tour package.
Credit and Debit Card Refunds
Customers who paid Direct Air by credit card may be entitled to a credit from their credit card company under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Write to your credit card issuer, being sure to state your account number. Enclose a photocopy of your credit card statement, if you have received one, and a photocopy of your ticket, itinerary or receipt if possible, or indicate the price of the transportation and the date it was purchased. State that Direct Air has ceased operations, that you will not receive the product that you charged to your account (i.e., the comprehensive tour), and that you are requesting a credit pursuant to the Fair Credit Billing Act.
The credit card issuer must receive this notice no later than 60 days after the date that you received the first monthly statement that listed the Direct Air charge, although credit card companies sometimes waive this deadline for future transportation. If you have a paper ticket or other evidence of your transportation, some credit card issuers may ask for the original unused ticket or other documentation. If this is requested, keep a photocopy and send the original by certified mail. Do not send the original documentation unless it is requested. However, it would be a good idea to enclose a copy of any confirmation or itinerary sheet that you may have received.
There are no federal protections for debit card purchases of the type described above for credit cards. However, some debit card issuers voluntarily provide some or all of those protections. If you paid by debit card, consult your debit card issuer regarding your refund rights.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Crashes into Police
The Montgomery County (Texas) Sheriff's Office had a big day planned. After
becoming the first department in the country with its own aerial drone
($300,000!), they were ready for a nice photo op. And then the drone crashed
into a SWAT team.
Examiner reports a painfully contrived police action-athon:
As the sheriff's SWAT team suited up with lots of firepower and their
armored vehicle known as the "Bearcat," a prototype drone from
Vanguard Defense Industries took off for pictures of all the police action. It
was basically a photo opportunity, according to those in attendance.
"Lots of firepower" and a "Bearcat" sure sounds like a
good photo op. OK, time to launch the $300,000 drone. Here we go. Launch the
"[The] prototype drone was flying about 18-feet off the ground when it
lost contact with the controller's console on the ground. It's designed to go
into an auto shutdown mode...but when it was coming down the drone crashed into
the SWAT team's armored vehicle."
Not only did the drone fail, and not only did it crash, it literally
crashed into the police. It's no wonder we're not able to find a video of
this spectacular publicity failure. Luckily, the SWAT boys were safe in their
This would be a fine one-off blooper story if it weren't for some upsetting
implications. This is exactly why we have reason to raise multiple eyebrows
at Congress, which wants to allow hundreds of similar drones to fly over US
airspace. These drones are still a relatively young technology, relatively
unproven, and relatively crash-prone. The odds of being hit by one are low, of
course, but should a Texas-style UAV plummet ever happen in, say, a dense urban
area, nobody would be laughing. Not all of us are driving around in Bearcats. [Examiner]
202.483.1140 x 120
EPIC, COALITION LAUNCH PETITION TO ADDRESS PRIVACY THREAT POSED BY DRONES IN US
WASHINGTON, D.C. – EPIC, joined by more than 100 organizations, experts, and
members of the public, has sent a petition to the Federal Aviation
Administration, urging the agency to address the privacy threats associated
with the increased use of drones in the United States.
Congress recently passed legislation requiring the Agency to assess the safety
of drones used by commercial and government operators.
The petition asserts that "The privacy threat posed by the deployment of
drone aircraft in the United States is great. The public should be given the
opportunity to comment on this development."
Over 100 organizations, experts, and members of the public signed on to support
EPIC’s petition, including Bob Barr and Ralph Nader, two former candidates for
President, widely known for their efforts to safeguard privacy.
Separately, EPIC is also encouraging the White House to require the FAA to
develop privacy standards. Individuals can support that effort.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is a non-profit, public
interest research organization, established in 1994, to focus public attention
on emerging privacy issues.
EPIC, FAA Privacy Drone Petition
EPIC, White House Petition