Delays in approval from the Department of Homeland Security after the election of Donald Trump has stymied the sale of a Clearwater flight school when the prospective new owner backed out of the deal and now faces breach of contract.
Feng Jian Xin, a California resident, agreed to buy Clearwater Aviation Academy in 2016, along with its seven planes for $275,000.
Part of the deal hinged on Academy, at 4303-11 General Howard Dr., receiving certification from Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which oversees “nonimmigrants whose primary reason for coming to the United States is to be students.”
After the 9/11 terror attacks, the U.S. has put increased scrutiny, screening and tracking foreign students at flight schools, particularly after it was discovered some of the hijackers had attended flight schools in the U.S.
In March 2017, Feng told plaintiffs Clearwater Aviation and Global Aircraft Acquisitions LLC he did not plan to close the deal, possibly because Homeland Security had not yet ruled on Clearwater Aviation’s application.
According to a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed April 3 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, the flight school says Feng had no reason to abandon the deal because Clearwater was actively working to obtain the SEVIS authority through a third party.
Court documents show Clearwater Aviation had told Feng Jian Xin that “immigration upheaval” in Washington was the reason for delays in approval from Homeland Security,
“The election of President Trump has created a chaotic and unpredictable environment within DHS and upheaval regarding all immigration-related issues … Clearwater Aviation is involved in discussions with another holder of SEVIS authority that may be willing to allow that authority to be used for Clearwater Aviation Academy.”
On March 27, 2017, Steven Fox, representing Clearwater Aviation, wrote: “This transaction is not like buying a new car. You can’t just walk into the dealership, pick the model and options, pay the price and drive away. This is a living, breathing business that changes and grows from day to day. You don’t have the staff you need or even a place to do business. Going back to the new car analogy, you can’t drive and don’t have a driver.”
“I now have SEVIS authority available,” Fox added. “I think SEVIS is a non-issue.”
According to public records, Feng paid $1.75-million in 2015 for a 10-acre, 8,748-square-foot home in San Diego County. Records also show Tampa attorney Xuesong Alex Yu represented Feng in negotiations with Clearwater Aviation.