Flying Tigers Aviation has abruptly left their business operations at the Morehouse Memorial Airport in Bastrop. In doing so the company has left students searching for the training that the company provided, as well as the funds to pay for the training, as in most cases the cost of the training had already been paid to Flying Tigers. The company also left the area owing to the City of Bastrop over $190,000 for fuel used to fly their airplanes. The airport is owned by the City of Bastrop.
Sometime in early June, Flying Tigers shut down their training school at the airport and left town. In doing so students, as well as Louisiana Delta Community College (LDCC), who partnered with Flying Tigers, have been left to sort out what happened.
Dennis Epps, Chancellor at LDCC, told The Enterprise that the school became aware several weeks ago that they had a problem, and that Flying Tigers was not able to fulfill their contractual obligations in the public private/partnership with the school to train students in aviation.
"We are interested in making sure that our students are able to come out of this situation," Epps said. For its part, LDCC is trying to do what it can to assist students and doing its "due diligence" when it comes to the Flying Tigers.
Students attending training at Flying Tigers were eligible for financial aid. Some of that aid came in the form of student loans, primarily through Sallie Mae. Epps said that the school has been in touch with Sallie Mae and has worked on obtaining deferments for the students involved until the situation is resolved. Flying Tigers Aviation was paid their portion of those loan proceeds.
"My concern," said Epps, "is that both my students and my school are harmed."
Epps has been working with state auditors and students on a process for students that have lost money to be reimbursed for training that was not received. As each students training was individualized, so is each student's financial situation when it comes to the training. Epps said the school will be working with students to collect individual records of training received and that training not received in an effort to determine what amount each student may be owed. An account is being established by the school to make restitution to the students registered at the school through LDCC, after determining what each individual student may be owed.
Epps said that a legal team is evaluating the school's options when it comes to Flying Tigers.
A public records request to the City of Bastrop turned up a letter sent to Flying Tigers in June, by then City Attorney Doug Lawrence, demanding payment of $191,115.62, "for aviation fuel purchases made between the dates of July 1, 2015, and May 31, 2017. In addition, the letter demands payment due for rent for Flying Tigers City owned buildings at the airport in the amount of "$1,000 for unpaid past rent for of (sic) airport premises owed as of July 1, 2016, for the year July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017." The letter also gives notice that another rental payment of $1,000 was due for the yearly rent from 2017 - 2018.
Attempts to reach out to anyone with Flying Tigers have not met with much success. Robert Garret, former Manager at the school, would not comment on the situation when contacted by telephone. No one answers the two different telephone numbers for Flying Tigers and messages left have not been returned.
Flying Tigers moved to Bastrop from Rayville in March 2015 with hopes of establishing a premier Ag flight training school. The school has suffered two fatal crashes since then that killed two instructors and two students. One of those just this past April when instructor Gary Wood Cumbey, 54, of Paragould, AR and student Angel Eloy Torres, 22 of Yuma, AZ, were killed. It is not known if the crash played a part in the closing of the school.