The pilot of the plane that crashed with footballer Emiliano Sala on board dropped out of training for his commercial pilot’s licence and never finished it, an investigation has found.
David Ibbotson was not qualified to carry passengers for payment after failing to complete the commercial theory course.
The discovery has fuelled speculation that the flight on a Piper Malibu was illegal.
The light aircraft carrying Sala crashed into the English Channel en route from France to Wales on 21 January.
Sala, 28, had been signed by Premier League side Cardiff from French club Nantes for a club record fee of £15m. His body was found in the wreckage off Guernsey last month.
Mr Ibbotson, 59, from Lincolnshire, whose body has still not been found, held a private licence in the UK and the US, meaning he could not carry paying passengers in the EU other than on a cost-sharing basis, and not for reward.
In an interim report published on Monday, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch said there was no evidence Mr Ibbotson had approval to fly commercially and had not sought approval from the authorities to do so.
The BBC reported that he studied for a commercial pilot’s licence (CPL) qualification from December 2012 until July 2014 with Cranfield Aviation Training School near Milton Keynes, but dropped out of the course without qualifying after failing to complete his theoretical training.
Stuart E Smith, head of training at the school, said: “It is common for middle-aged private pilots to undertake the CPL theoretical knowledge course so that they may then complete CPL flight training and be able to earn money as a pilot or flight instructor.”
He told the BBC Mr Ibbotson got in touch again in 2016 with the intention of resuming his training, but never followed it up.
Dr Smith said he had sent a report to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) soon after the tragedy.
The Piper Malibu was registered in the US, whose rules stipulate the use of aircraft commercially abroad must be approved by the CAA and Federal Aviation Administration. No permission was sought before Sala’s flight.
Investigations will continue to analyse air traffic communications and radar for information about the accident.
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