Lawsuit Potentially Upends Biplane Class at 2023 Reno Air Races

Members of the Biplane Class at the Reno Air Races voted to remove a pilot, alleging unsafe practices. He then sued.

Members of the Biplane Class at the Reno Air Races voted to remove a pilot from their class for alleged unsafe practices. [Credit: Shutterstock]

One of the characteristics of aviation is that the community can be self-policing. If an aviator flies in such a fashion that others consider dangerous, you can be sure that peer counseling will take place. However, that doesn't mean there won't be pushback.

Members of the Biplane Class at the Reno Air Races voted to remove John D'Alessandris, who came first in qualifying in 2022, from their class for alleged unsafe practices. D’Alessandris responded with a lawsuit, the repercussions of which, according to the Reno Air Race Association (RARA), "may affect its ability to participate in the 2023 Pylon Racing Seminar."

FLYING obtained a copy of the complaint seeking a jury trial. Defendants named in the suit include: RARA; Fred Telling, RARA's CEO and chairman; Professional Race Pilots Association (PRPA);  Eric Zine, president of the Biplane Class; and Sam Swift, a National Championship Air Races competitor.

According to the document, among the accusations against D'Alessandris are allegations of cheating during speed trials, reckless flying, including crossing the showline, and having his airplane inspected in his hangar, not in the biplane hangar as the rules require. Per the suit, several pilots in the Biplane Class approached officials with their concerns, but D’Alessandris was not pulled from the competition, a process known as “black flagging.” 

D'Alessandris is seeking relief for breach of contract, civil conspiracy, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to another racer who spoke with FLYING on the condition of anonymity, "We felt like John's flying was unsafe, and we couldn't figure out if it was rust or attitude. The class voted that we didn't want to fly with him." According to the source, the RARA has a policy where pilots have the opportunity to improve their skills through a Pylon Racing Seminar, but D'Alessandris declined and instead filed the lawsuit.

Members of the Biplane Class suggest that RARA "did nothing to protect us. They let our class take the fall."

In a letter sent to Telling, PRPA announced its decision to "cease any and all further activities in support of the 2023 National Championship Air Races and the Reno Air Race Association . Similarly, Mr. Dennis Brown, Mr. Michael Stubbs, and Mr. Eric Zine have also elected to cease any and all further activities in support of the 2023 Air Races and RARA, and hereby resign from our positions as vice president of the RARA Biplane Class, secretary/treasurer of the RARA Biplane Class, and president of the RARA Biplane Class, respectively. These resignations are effective immediately."

The letter references the lawsuit filed by D'Alessandris.

"While we disagree with the plaintiff’s characterizations therein and strenuously maintain that no wrongdoing warranting this lawsuit occurred, the suit has brought to light potential liabilities and exposures to costs that were not previously appreciated and/or fully understood,” the letter continued. “In light of this, the PRPA, as well as Mr. Brown, Mr. Stubbs, and Mr. Zine believe the risks of potential liability to be too great to warrant further voluntary participation and/or support of the 2023 Air Races at this time."

2023 Reno Air Races

The Reno Air Races are slated for September 13-17. The organization notes this will be the last time the races are held at Reno-Stead Airport (KRTS).

Earlier this year, organizers said they expect more than 150 airplanes and pilots to attend this year's air races. There will also be several hands-on displays and experiences, including a STEM Education Discovery Zone, the ever popular heritage displays, military demonstrations, and static displays and more.

The event will also mark the third year of competition for the STOL (short take-off and landing) Drag series. Tickets can be purchased here.

The races have been held at Reno-Stead since 1964. A location for next year has not been announced.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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