The man who piloted a small plane that crashed in a busy Winnipeg intersection has received a two-year conditional sentence.

Justice Holly Beard handed down the decision Thursday, and said it should be a wake-up call for small airlines.

Mark Tayfel was piloting a small twin-engine plane that ran out of fuel and crash-landed on Logan Avenue in June, 2002.

A group of Americans were on board, returning from a fishing trip from Gunasao Lake in northern Manitoba. All seven people onboard survived the crash initially, but one man, 79-year-old Chester Jones, died a few weeks later from his injuries.

The 42-year-old pilot based out of Calgary was found guilty of criminal negligence causing death, four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and one count of dangerous operation of an aircraft.

Tayfel's lawyer said his client doesn't deserve to go to jail.

"He wasn't trying to crash the plane, the judge made that clear," said Balfour Der. "He's not trying to kill anyone. He's not trying to hurt anyone, because if there's an accident he gets there first -- and he wasn't on any kind of suicide mission."

Small airlines need to improve: judge

Justice Holly Beard went further in her sentence, saying although there is no excuse for pilots to break rules and engage in risky business, smaller airlines need to improve the way they operate. She said the sentence may be more severe if a similar incident happens again.

The judge said in her decision:

This decision is a signal to pilots and small commercial airline owners and operators that a corporate culture of bending or ignoring the aeronautics regulations to get the job done at the cost of reduced safety to passengers and others is criminal behaviour.

And it appears as though the industry may be listening, according to former Keystone Airlines operations manager and now aviation consultant George Riopka.

"It's very unfortunate that Mr. Tayfel has to go through what he's doing now," he said. "But all pilots have to understand it is their responsibility to conduct a safe flight as the company dispatched it."

Tayfel's lawyer said young pilots get little support and guidance, but Keystone Air says safety is its top priority.

Tayfel has a number of conditions including a curfew.

Pilot convictions rare

This is one of the rare times in North America a pilot has been prosecuted for his role in a plane crash.

On his sentencing hearing on Wednesday, Tayfel said sorry to his passengers. An emotional Tayfel said that he hopes he doesn't have to go to jail, and took responsibility for the crash.

"It was my responsibility to safely bring the passengers back to Winnipeg and I failed to do that," he said.

Tayfel's lawyers said his client has been punished enough, and that it up to the industry to regulate itself.

"What's unique here is the criminalization of something that is unheard of," said lawyer Lisa Burgis. "It's a well structured industry. There are regulations, rules, safety checks and balances. Some may say it should be left up to that industry to take care of its own."

During the trial, Tayfel couldn't explain why he was suddenly so short of fuel. He testified he thought he'd have to glide into the airport. However, he overshot the runway and had to pull around for another attempt. He didn't make it.

A former colleague of the pilot testified he flew the same plane back to Winnipeg the night before from Swan River. He told the judge if he was piloting the plane the next day to Gunasao Lake he would have filled up the tank, because there wouldn't be enough fuel to get back.

Tayfel testified he thought he had enough in the tanks. He blamed the crash on faulty fuel gauges.

Judge told small operators cut corners

The judge was told on Wednesday that pilots working for small operators are often told to cut corners at the expense of safety. The crown wants jail time, and the defense wants a conditional or suspended sentence, saying pilots have run out of fuel before and not been prosecuted.

During Wednesday's sentencing hearing, the defense argued that as part of a sentence, the pilot could be asked to lecture at flight schools about the dangers of cutting corners.

With a report from CTV's Kelly Dehn.