A three-letter word has cost one of the nation's oldest air ambulance operators a $30,000 fine.
The word is "our" — a possessive personal pronoun meaning it belongs to us.
But the U.S. Department of Transportation says that was the wrong word for Mercy Flights of Oregon to use to describe a helicopter with a Federal Aviation Administration certificate owned by another company.
The helicopter was purchased for the exclusive use of Mercy Flights, but a separate company was formed for the deal back in 1998 and has ownership on paper, the Mail Tribune reported.
Mercy Flights operates two fixed-wing aircraft with all the required FAA certificates and began joint operations with Timberland Helicopters in 1994. Then in 1998, Brim Aviation, Timberland and Siskiyou Transportation formed a company called BTS LLC and acquired a helicopter for exclusive use by Mercy Flights.
"We formed a company to simply operate the aircraft with its own FAA certificate as a stand-alone," said Mark Gibson, general manager of Siskiyou Transportation and past president of Helicopter Association International.
Mercy Flights General Manager Ken Parson said the nonprofit has exclusive use of the helicopter and pays all operating costs.
"We were the only reason they bought the helicopter, and that's when we began using the 'we' and 'our,'" Parson told the Mail Tribune.
But according to the Transportation Department consent order signed by Deputy General Counsel Rosalind "Lindy" Knapp, Mercy Flights broke laws prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices in the sales of air transportation by using personal pronouns.
The Office of Aviation Enforcement Proceedings found that "the Mercy Flights website makes prominent note of '(o)ur Emergency Medical Transport Helicopter Ambulance serves Southern Oregon ... and Northern California.'"
The Enforcement Office added, "In a similar fashion, newsletters available on Mercy Flights' website, such as a Spring 2009 newsletter titled 'Into the Night,' made repeated references to 'our medical helicopter,' 'our helicopter.'"
Mercy Flights isn't alone in the government campaign against improper use of personal possessive pronouns.
In April 2009, Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance Services of Scottsdale, Ariz., was fined $10,000 by the Transportation Department.
"We are very cognizant of that word now," said Angel MedFlight CEO Kelly LoCascio. "We're all in the same position, holding our breath."
Mercy Flights will only have to pay half its $30,000 fine if it avoids more pronoun violations for a year.
Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/