A PILOT has admitted to illegally flying a £15 million football star who was killed when his light aircraft crashed in the English Channel.

David Henderson, 67, pleaded guilty to one charge over the death of striker Emiliano Sala, 28, who was killed on the stormy flight to Britain from his French club to join Cardiff City.

Henderson admitted that he was the operator when his plane took payment for Mr Sala to fly "without permission or authorisation" from outside Britain.

The formal charge read: "On the 21/1/19 as the operator of aircraft registration N264DB attempted to cause N264DB an aircraft register elsewhere that the UK to discharge a passenger Emiliano Sala at Cardiff in the UK for valuable consideration without permission or authorisation."

He is denying another charge after recruiting fellow pilot David Ibbotson, 59, as a last-minute stand-in to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu from France to Cardiff airport.

But a court has heard he allegedly did not have a commercial licence and was “not competent” to fly in bad weather.

The two-week trial is due to start tomorrow, Tuesday, after the jury are questioned before being sworn in - including being asked if they are fans of Cardiff City.

Striker Mr Sala was on his way to the UK to play for Cardiff City in a £15 million move from French side Nantes when the tragedy happened.

But his flight never arrived - Mr Sala and pilot Mr Ibbotson died when the plane careered into the water.

Henderson wearing a blue suit and tie arrived at Cardiff Crown Court with his legal team for the hearing.

Argentinian Mr Sala was much feted ahead of his planned Premier League move to Cardiff City. He was killed when the plane crashed north of Guernsey on January 21, 2019.

There was a huge outpouring of grief following his death with thousands of fans leaving tributes at the stadium.

Mr Sala’s body was recovered the following month, but the body of Mr Ibbotson, of Crowle, Lincolnshire, has not been found.

Henderson was originally feared to be on the plane because his bank details had been used to book the flight.

Henderson allegedly recruited Mr Ibbotson for return flights that weekend heading to and from France both with Mr Sala on board.

He flew from Cardiff on January 18 before the fatal flight from Nantes on January 21.

The court heard Henderson was charged with two offences under the Air Navigation Order (2016).

An earlier court heard Mr Ibbotson “did not have a commercial pilot’s licence or a licence that had expired in December 2018.”

The charge stated Henderson knew that “bad weather was forecast and Mr Ibbotson was not competent to fly in that weather.”

He also denied a charged related to Mr Ibbotson not having a commercial pilot's licence at the time of the flight, with it having expired in November 2018.

It also related to the bad weather which was forecast for the fatal return journey from Nantes to Cardiff, with the pilot not being "competent to fly in such weather".

Henderson, of the East Riding of Yorkshire, will face a two week trial in front of a High Court Judge Mr Justice Foxton in the prosecution brought by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Mr Sala's family living in Argentina are not expected in court to hear the trial.