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AeroVanti pilots sue for back pay, allege exec compared startup to Apple

The troubled Sarasota air service company is facing a class action lawsuit from employees who say they've not been paid since June.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:00 a.m. February 20, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Aerovanti was founded in 2021.
Aerovanti was founded in 2021.
Courtesy photo
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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A group of pilots has filed a federal class-action lawsuit alleging AeroVanti failed to pay them and other employees after being told in a June email from an executive at the beleaguered business that the money was coming and that the troubles the company faced were similar to those of Amazon, Apple, Tesla and Uber in their early days.

The lawsuit was filed Jan. 23 in Tampa by Tyson Roser, Rick Hendrick and Joshua Kraus. In the lawsuit, the three accuse the floundering Sarasota air service company of violating federal labor law and Florida common law. The pilots, who are seeking others to join the suit, are asking to be awarded “unpaid minimum and overtime wages owed, liquidated damages, and prejudgment interest on any unpaid overtime or minimum wages upon which liquidated damages were not assessed.”

They are also asking for attorney fees and costs. A total dollar amount the plaintiffs are seeking wasn't disclosed in court documents.

The pilots, and any other employee who joins them, are part of a long list who allege they were left unpaid by AeroVanti as the company failed to fulfill its promises and money meant for airplanes and other services never materialized. That list includes unpaid vendors, unpaid airplane owners and customers who paid $150,000 for memberships for planes that had been repossessed.

And if grounded and repossessed planes weren’t enough, $25 million in funding has been rescinded and federal prosecutors have alleged proceeds from a scheme to defraud Medicare were used to start the company.

As the company faces these issues, it has gone through a revolving door of CEOs — each who has promised the next turnaround plan was the one that was going to change the company’s fortunes. The latest is Patrick Britton-Harr, the company’s founder and original CEO. He returned to the top spot after it was held by former Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes for just shy of three months starting in July. And after that Todd Britton-Harr, Patrick Britton-Harr's brother, lasted three days as CEO.

In this latest lawsuit, the pilots who live in Sarasota and were based out of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, claim they have not been paid since June while “they continue to be expected to be on stand-by and prepared to fly at any given time.”

(The lawsuit is not clear if Roser, Hendrick and Kraus are currently working for the company or if “continue to be” refers to others still employed by AeroVanti. The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Nicholas Joseph Castellano II of Buckman & Buckman in Sarasota, did not respond to a request for comment late Monday afternoon.)

The lawsuit also alleges that starting Jan. 21, 2023, the pilots were regularly asked to work more than 40 hours but were not paid overtime for the extra time.

The failure to pay employees, according to the lawsuit, “was willful and intentional.”

In an email sent to about 45 people June 6, Joey Giordano, AeroVanti’s vice president of operations, tells employees that “per Patrick” paychecks are due "within the next two days." The hold up was “due to repercussions of recent events” and the company “is awaiting some capital in order to get back on track and continue on a path of success.”

The capital, according to Giordano’s email, “is expected to come in two weeks or so ... with the understanding that it doesn't happen overnight.”

Patrick Britton-Harr resigned as CEO of AeroVanti about six weeks later, on July 25. 

(It is not clear if Giordano is still with the company. An email sent to the address listed in the message to employees bounced back as undeliverable Monday with a note saying it “has been blocked.”)

“This is still a startup company and from time-to-time there are speed bumps that we will face as we are paving a new road in the industry. Many major companies that are a great success today have faced similar challenges: Uber, Amazon, Apple, Tesla, and the list goes on,” Giordano wrote in the June 6 email.

“What made them an ultimate success is the movements made following the dip in success. They stayed together as a team and operated on the faith and belief in their products. We can too!”

AeroVanti has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

According to federal court records, there appear to be seven pending lawsuits — not counting lawsuits filed in local courts — against the company and two default judgements have been issued thus far. 

Patrick Britton-Harr, who is named in several of those lawsuits, is facing a $30 million default judgement in Maryland after he and other companies he started are alleged to have committed Medicare fraud.

He is also facing civil contempt charges in that case and has a hearing scheduled for March 8. Patrick Britton-Harr didn't respond to texts for comment from the Business Observer. 



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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