Kent Man Sentenced for Piloting Aircraft Without Valid Certificate

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FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Department of Justice Building is pictured

A Kent man was sentenced to two years of probation and one weekend of intermittent confinement after he previously pleaded guilty to flying an airplane without a valid airman’s certificate in June 2019.  Delbert Garfield Stewart, 71, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., on Monday, August 8, 2022, and was also ordered to pay a fine of $5,000.

According to court documents, on three separate occasions, between June 2019 and March 2021, Stewart piloted a Bellanca Model 17-30A single-engine aircraft without a valid certificate.  Court records show that Stewart obtained a private pilot certificate through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1978.  Additionally, court documents state that Stewart purchased the Bellance aircraft in October 2010, registered to his address in Kent, Ohio.

On November 14, 2013, the FAA notified Stewart of a 180-day suspension of his pilot certificate due to numerous FAA violations, specifically those that occurred during a September 2, 2013, flight from Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, to Portage County Airport in Ravenna, Ohio. 

During this incident, the FAA stated that Stewart piloted his aircraft under conditions in which he was not authorized to fly and climbed to an elevation without notifying air traffic control.  Stewart responded to the FAA notice claiming that the FAA did not have jurisdiction over him as a private individual not engaged in commerce.  The FAA suspended Stewart’s certificate on February 6, 2014.  Stewart’s certificate remained suspended until the FAA revoked the certificate in October 2019, after Stewart had piloted the plane and landed without the landing gear fully extended.

Court records state that on separate occasions between June 2019 and March 2021, Stewart piloted his aircraft despite the February 2014 suspension and October 2019 revocation. Court documents describe these incidents as such:

  • On June 20, 2019, Stewart piloted the aircraft from Portage County Regional Airport (KPOV) in Ravenna, Ohio, and landed at the Warsaw Indiana Airport (KASW) in Warsaw, Indiana.  While in Indiana, Stewart flew the aircraft on multiple flights with passengers on board.
  • On July 5, 2020, Stewart piloted and landed the aircraft at KPOV with a passenger on board.  An FAA official advised Stewart that his airmen certificate was revoked and that the airworthiness certificate for the aircraft was also suspended.
  • On March 8, 2021, Stewart flew from Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport (KPUJ) in Georgia to KPOV Airport.  Prior to the flight, law enforcement advised Stewart that his airman certificate was revoked.

Prior to trial, Stewart filed motions to dismiss the charges against him, arguing, amongst other things, that neither Congress nor the FAA has the authority to regulate his conduct and their attempt to do so violated the Commerce Clause, as well as other Constitutional provisions.  The Court denied the motions, finding that the Commerce Clause allowed Congress to pass laws regulating instruments of commerce, such as airplanes, even if the pilot was not flying for payment.

On April 18, 2022, Stewart was set to go to trial on the matter before Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., in Cleveland.  However, during jury selection, Stewart pleaded guilty to one count of flying an airplane without a valid airman’s certificate on June 20, 2019.

This investigation was conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and Ohio State Highway Patrol.  This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Damoun Delaviz and Brad Beeson.