Thursday, April 10, 2008

Blackwater Bulks Up Air Power Using Little-Known Company

Private security contractor Blackwater Worldwide has purchased a light attack counterinsurgency aircraft, and over two dozen other aircraft, under the name of an obscure aviation company.
An Embraer Super Tucano was placed on the U.S. civil aircraft registry on February 21, 2008 under the name of EP Aviation LLC. Additionally, 28 other aircraft have been registered to this company, most over the past few months. The list includes 14 Bell 412 helicopters, as well as a number of fixed wing aircraft.
While Blackwater hasn't advertised this news, neither is it keeping it a state secret (EP Aviation isn't the sneakiest way to hide connections to Blackwater owner Erik Prince). A spokesperson for Blackwater, in fact, confirmed to Danger Room that EP Aviation is an affiliate of Blackwater.
Jane's Defence Weekly first reported last year that Blackwater was trying to get an import license for the Super Tucano. (The Super Tucano's recent registration was first reported as a small item in the April issue of Air Forces Monthly.) But what isn't clear is why the company would register these aircraft under the name EP Aviation LLC. After all, Blackwater has another, better known, affiliate, Presidential Airways, which also has a number of registered aircraft.
So what is EP Aviation LLC? The company, located in McLean, VA is described as providing "nonscheduled air transportation." The company's phone number is the same number in McLean (and physical address) as that of the Prince Group, whose holdings include Blackwater, among a number of other related companies.
What are all these aircraft for? Well, the Super Tucano makes sense; it could be used to provide counterinsurgency aircraft training to the U.S. government. As for the other aircraft, one blog, which doesn't note the Blackwater connection, says the aircraft are part of the FBI's contractor fleet.
Anyhow, I'm going to rely on the plane spotters out there to use the N numbers in the FAA registry to track these aircraft.

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