By the time she was 3, Mickey Jacobs knew she wanted to make her living in the sky.
"The first day I saw a plane I got a thrill that has never gone away," said Jacobs, an Arlington resident who is now 19.
So in November, after reading an advertisment in The Washington Post, she wrote a check for $850 and chased her dream to Los Angeles, where Hawaiian Pacific Airlines, one of the dozens of small carriers to appear since the industry was deregulated in 1978, had agreed to train her to become one of its flight attendants.
But Hawaiian Pacific, which had been advertising low-fare flights to Honolulu from several cities, including Washington, is an airline without a plane or the permission to fly one, according to the Department of Transportation. Although it offered $225 nonstop flights from Washington and has taken money to train dozens of potential employes, the airline and its president, Kevin M. Von Feldt of Los Angeles, are under an order issued by a federal judge in Washington prohibiting them from engaging in air transportation until the Department of Transportation grants them permission.
Von Feldt said that he had not misled the public with his advertisements and that he would bring his airline into compliance and begin service by the end of this month. Federal officials familiar with the case, however, almost chuckled at the mention of his name. They said that Jacobs is only one of many who have been attracted to Von Feldt's attempts to start air service.
"We have never seen anyone quite like Kevin before," said a federal transportation official who has investigated several of Von Feldt's past and current attempts to start an airline. "Sometimes I don't think he has a moral bone in his body. And sometimes I think he actually believes he is doing what's right."
Government agents and the people who have paid him money for services described Von Feldt as sophisticated and eloquent. He currently shares a house in Los Angeles with six women who attended his three-week flight training course, and he said that if his airline makes money he will eventually move on to films.
"The guy was such a talker, so smooth," said Jacobs. " . . . At the first class he told us to remain faithful to him . . . . It was like a cult.
"I left that night," she continued. "I never said a word; I just got out."
"If somebody is not loyal to this company," countered Von Feldt, "I just don't want to see them."
Although the FAA revoked approval for his training course in October, he said he was still training flight attendants and pilots and that he hoped to begin operations by the end of this month. FAA regulations say that all training programs must have its approval to operate.
Von Feldt's legal battles to fly have taken him to California, Minnesota and federal court in the District of Columbia. The Postal Service is investigating him in connection with his attempts to recruit pilots and flight attendants, as is the Federal Aviation Administration.
Last week, DOT announced a new investigation into Hawaiian Pacific's activities. The department also issued a press release warning customers and travel agents that Hawaiian Pacific has set up a toll-free telephone information number and that, despite FAA restrictions, the airline is promising that service to Honolulu will begin this month.
Von Feldt said in an interview that he has made one mistake: selling tickets before his airline was off the ground. He denied allegations that he had attempted to act improperly, and he said DOT has a vendetta against him.
"All I want to do is show that I can run a safe and profitable operation," he said. "Once the government makes up its mind that it doesn't want somebody in the club, they don't have a chance."
DOT officials said Von Feldt's actions are, in part, the dangerous results of a deregulated industry that each year becomes more difficult to control.
"I started the airline two years ago because this is the business to be in," said Von Feldt. "Deregulation has made it exciting. We are an aggressive company that is in excellent shape."
He added that he intended to file suit against DOT, the Postal Service, and the FAA. Earlier this year, after the state of Minnesota successfuly sued Von Feldt to stop him from advertising for flight attendants, he threatened publicly to file a $50 million libel suit.
Whatever else he is, Kevin M. Von Feldt is not a man easily moved.
According to DOT officials, he first applied to the former Civil Aeronautics Board for a license to operate an airline in November 1983. While processing the application, officials said, they discovered that Von Feldt had a record of false advertising in his home state of Minnesota dating back several years.
In 1977, he was fined $25,000 for promoting a fictitious series of concerts starring famous entertainers ranging from Steve Allen to Bill Cosby. A federal judge in St. Paul found that although Von Feldt had sold tickets for the series, he had yet to lease the theater.
None of the entertainers had ever heard from him.
The following year, in violation of a court order prohibiting the use of deceptive advertising, he offered a series of 81 films to be shown in a theater in St. Paul. This time there was a signed lease, but according to court documents it was terminated before the first film was scheduled.
By September 1983, Von Feldt had moved to California and entered the airline industry, albeit through a novel approach. Between September 1983 and January 1984, DOT says, he collected more than $1 million in ticket sales for trips to Hawaii on Hawaiian Pacific. Von Feldt said he was selling the tickets to raise money to purchase a Boeing 747 for the airline.
Federal regulations don't allow advance ticket sales for that purpose, and the agency sued him in Washington for false advertising. He agreed to put the funds in escrow and then to refund the money.
On Feb. 13, 1984, Von Feldt signed a consent judgment in the District of Columbia under which he agreed not to engage in air transport without the proper authority from the federal government.
As soon as he signed the decree he switched gears, federal officials said, and attempted to find an airline that already had permission from the FAA to operate.
Almost a year after the decree, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole was back in court in Washington, charging that Von Feldt, claiming to be sole owner of Golden West, a small commuter airline in California, was again selling tickets without the authority to do so.
Golden West had received an operating certificate from the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1981, but in April 1983 the company had ceased operation and had filed for reorganization onder Chapter 11 of the federal Bankruptcy Act.
Von Feldt paid nothing for the airline, and began using its name without the authority of its trustee, according to complaints from DOT filed in federal court in the District. By the time he got hold of it, Golden West had no planes and no assets, the government has said.
But it had a name and he used it to begin selling tickets for proposed Boeing 747 service to Honolulu, even though Golden West did not have certification to use the jumbo jets.
On March 8, 1985, in Washington, U.S. District Judge John H. Pratt, citing those sales, found Von Feldt in contempt for violating his previous order preventing him from operating as an airline without proper authorization.
The court docket shows that the hearing Pratt scheduled for Von Feldt was delayed after Von Feldt requested time to obtain an aviation lawyer. "I had no notice, no time, no chance to prepare," he said in an interview. Von Feldt never appeared at the hearing at which he was found in contempt.
Many of the law enforcement officials who have been involved with the case speak of Von Feldt's inventiveness and resilience. At the same time, they are concerned that he shows no apparent willingness to stop his actions.
"This is a very bright man," said Christopher Ames, California deputy attorney general for consumer protection, who is investigating Von Feldt. "He is a great salesman with a great presence. He wouldn't be on the street today if he wasn't smart enough to stay on the margin of the law."
This summer, Von Feldt signed a stock purchase agreement as president of Hawaiian Pacific to buy T-Bird International Airlines of Houston, which has no airplanes, had not operated for more than a year and is without the insurance needed before the government will let it fly.
Hawaiian Pacific said in advertisements as recently as two weeks ago that it will use Boeing 747 aircraft to fly to Hawaii, even though T-Bird, like Golden West, has no authority to use them, according to the FAA.
Von Feldt, who is said to be in his early thirties, said Hawaiian Pacific will be ready to take off in a couple of months. He views the numerous suits and investigations he has endured as harassment.
"The federal government is after me," he said. "So are the postal inspectors. Well, they are smoking bananas if they think they can convince someone I am not serious. Believe me, I am a very serious man."