!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'May 1999: New Owner with ‘Checkered History’ Takes Over Flight School Later Attended by 9/11 Hijackers'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event May 1999: New Owner with ‘Checkered History’ Takes Over Flight School Later Attended by 9/11 Hijackers. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Huffman Aviation.Huffman Aviation. [Source: FBI]Huffman Aviation, the Venice, Florida flight school later attended by Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi (see July 1-3, 2000) is sold to Naples-based flight school Ambassador Airways, which is owned by Wally Hilliard and Rudi Dekkers. Although Hilliard finances the purchase, Dekkers becomes the sole stockholder. Dekkers is a Dutch national with a highly questionable past. The St. Petersburg Times will later comment, he “seems to have benefited from the same type of casual scrutiny of visa applicants that let the 9/11 hijackers live and train here [in the US].” Even before 9/11, he has “a long history of troubled businesses, run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration and numerous lawsuits… It is the kind of checkered history, experts say, that should have raised questions both before and after the 9/11 attacks about Dekkers’ fitness to run a school that trained pilots.” Having previously run a computer company in the Netherlands that went bankrupt, he’d moved to Naples, Florida in 1992. After running a computer chip exporting company, he’d started Ambassador Airways. Yet he’d been so late on some of his bills there that at one point the Naples airport refused to sell him aviation fuel, even if he paid cash. At some point in 1999 the FAA revoked his pilot’s license for 45 days—a severe penalty—for several violations, including “operating an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner.” In spite of Dekkers’ dubious history and the fact that his Ambassador Airways is struggling, Wally Hilliard, a prominent retired businessman, loans him $1.7 million to buy Huffman Aviation. Dekkers says he plans spending $60,000 per year promoting the school, advertising extensively in Germany and other European countries. [Venice Gondolier Sun, 5/29/1999; Venice Gondolier Sun, 1/25/2003; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Huffman Aviation is just up the road from Florida Flight Training Center, where Ziad Jarrah, the alleged pilot of Flight 93, will begin flying lessons in summer 2000 (see (June 28-December 2000)). [Associated Press, 9/9/2002] Dekkers will close Ambassador Airways in December 2001, due to financial difficulties, and sell Huffman Aviation in January 2003. [Naples Daily News, 1/25/2003; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 1/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Ambassador Airways, Rudi Dekkers, Wally Hilliard, Huffman Aviation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Rudi Dekkers.Rudi Dekkers. [Source: Peter Muhly / Agence France-Presse]9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi move from New York to Venice, Florida. [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/16/2001] They arrive at Huffman Aviation, a flying school at Venice Municipal Airport, on July 1, according to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, inquiring about taking lessons there. They are reported to also check out a flight school in Oklahoma at the beginning of this month (see July 2-3, 2000). They then return to Huffman—on July 3 according the Dekkers—and begin flight instruction, subsequently enrolling in the school’s Accelerated Pilot Program. When they register at the school, Atta and Alshehhi use their real names. Dekkers later states that they say they are unhappy with a flying school they attended up north, though he gives no details about the identity of this school. It will later be claimed that Atta and Alshehhi attended a flight school in Punta Gorda before moving to Venice (see Before July 2000). However, Punta Gorda is south, not north, of Venice. Paying by check, Atta will give $18,703.50 in total for his lessons, while Alshehhi gives $20,917.63. The money necessary to cover their training is sent to them in a series of transfers from Dubai (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). [Washington Post, 9/19/2001; Washington Post, 9/30/2001; US Congress, 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Huffman’s owner Rudi Dekkers has what the St. Petersburg Times will describe as “a long history of troubled businesses, run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration and numerous lawsuits.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] After 9/11 he will face even more lawsuits (see August 23, 2001-April 2004).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Huffman Aviation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Huffman Aviation logo.Huffman Aviation logo. [Source: Huffman Aviation]9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta attend Huffman Aviation, a flight school in Venice, Florida and enroll in its Accelerated Pilot Program, aiming to get commercial pilot licenses. According to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, Atta already has a private pilot’s license—though where and how he gained this is unstated—and wants to obtain a commercial license. Alshehhi wants to obtain both licenses. They begin their training in a Cessna 172 with instructor Thierry Leklou. According to the 9/11 Commission, by the end of July both are already taking solo flights. However, in August Leklou complains to Chief Flight Instructor Daniel Pursell that the two are failing to follow instructions and have bad attitudes. Pursell considers expelling them, but, according to Dekkers, after a warning they improve their behavior and continue without further problems. [US Congress, 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224, 227; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Yet Pursell later testifies that the school’s instructors breathed “a collective sigh of relief” when the two left Huffman. [Associated Press, 3/23/2006] Furthermore, reportedly, “Atta and al-Shehhi would rent a plane from Huffman and be gone for days at a time, Pursell said. They could fly to 20 airports across the state and never be noticed.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] Mark Mikarts, another of the school’s instructors, says Atta has “big problems with authority,” and doesn’t take instructions well. [Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 17 pdf file] Susan Hall, Huffman’s office manager, refers to Atta as “the little terrorist” while he is at the school, because, she later says, “I just didn’t like the aura he gave off.” [Reuters, 3/22/2006] In the middle of their training, in late September, Atta and Alshehhi enroll at another flight school, in nearby Sarasota. However, they are soon asked to leave it, and return to Huffman in October (see Late September-Early October 2000). While Atta and Alshehhi attend Huffman Aviation, another of the alleged hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, is taking lessons at a flight school just down the road from them (see (June 28-December 2000)). Yet no reports describe the three ever meeting up while they are all in Venice. According to official accounts, Atta and Alshehhi complete their schooling at Huffman on December 19, 2000, when they take their commercial pilot license tests. Rudi Dekkers says that after returning to the school to settle their bills, they leave and are never seen there again. [US Congress, 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 17 pdf file] Yet Daniel Pursell will later allege that early in 2001 the two are still connected with Huffman, being reported to the school for practicing nighttime landings in one of its planes at another Florida airport (see Between January and February 2001).

Entity Tags: Huffman Aviation, Daniel Pursell, Susan Hall, Mohamed Atta, Thierry Leklou, Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Rudi Dekkers, owner of Huffman Aviation—the Venice, Florida flight school attended by Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi—faces a series of legal suits. On August 23, 2001, a former female employee initiates a suit to enforce the settlement of a charge of “severe” sexual harassment by Dekkers. Huffman Aviation earlier agreed to pay her $15,000 in return for her not suing them. [Charlotte Sun, 10/3/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004] In August 2002, Dekkers’ former business partner Wally Hilliard files a suit, claiming Dekkers has failed to repay several loans, including one for $1.7 million, and also owes money for Huffman stock he sold him. [Venice Gondolier Sun, 8/24/2002] In January 2003, the state attorney’s office files criminal fraud charges against Dekkers for securing a loan of $200,000 with a mortgage on property his company had no legal interest in. The suit could result in a five-year prison sentence, but is later dismissed. [Venice Gondolier Sun, 1/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/22/2003; Venice Gondolier Sun, 1/25/2003; Venice Gondolier Sun, 12/6/2003] And in April 2004, along with Hilliard, he is accused of making as many as 26 unauthorized passenger flights during 1999, and faces a fine of up to $286,000. [Associated Press, 4/14/2004] In July 2004, the St. Petersburg Times will comment that Dekkers “continues to drive expensive vehicles and live in a million-dollar waterfront home, even though a Naples lawyer had ‘to chase him around’ to get him to pay a $359 judgment.” Even before 2001, Dekkers had a history of troubled businesses and being the subject of legal suits. In spite of this, following 9/11 he becomes a much sought-after figure by the media, later remarking, “I’m always on television somewhere.” He is even invited to testify before Congress regarding the two hijackers’ attendance at his flight school. [US Congress, 3/19/2002; Venice Gondolier Sun, 8/24/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 7/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Wally Hilliard, Rudi Dekkers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike