Lidle crash prompts air space regulation concerns
By Elizabeth Daley, Bay City News Service
October 14, 2006
The low-flying planes of San Francisco Fleet Week coupled with
Yankee pitcher Corey Lidle's recent crash in New York City raise
questions about whether air space regulations are as cloudy as
the sky itself.
But aviation officials say there is little to fear.
"Flying is very safe even in congested air space,"
said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.
According to Gregor, pilots flying in urban areas must fly at
least 1,000 feet above all obstacles within a 2,000 foot radius
of the plane.
However, helicopters have less stringent regulations and "may
be operated at lower to minimum height, provided flight is conducted
without hazard to persons or property on the ground," Gregor
read from official FAA rules.
Flight student Marty Kurt, a member of Oakland Flyers LLC, said
most airspace in the Bay Area is open to flights using "Visual
Flight Rules", the very same rules that Lidle was using when
he crashed. VFR rules allow pilots to fly, navigating with their
eyes, as long as they can see at least 3 miles ahead of them,
according to Kurt.
Kurt said VFR flights do not require pilots to register a detailed
flight plan with the FAA, and are commonly embarked upon by private
and student pilots who often lack the certification needed to
conduct flights using Instrument Flight Rules or IFR.
According to Kurt, on IFR flights, "you are essentially
flying on an electronic highway. Air traffic control will tell
you where you have to be: up, down, left, right. You have an in-flight
plan that will designate your route so air traffic control will
know where you are from the moment you take off, and if you are
following the instruments correctly, you will know you are on
the right path," Kurt said.
Gregor said regardless of flight rules, all pilots are identified,
tracked and communicated with using a device located inside the
plane called a transponder, so while VFR flights may not be as
strictly planned, they are still monitored.
"Air traffic controllers know where planes are at all times,
especially in urban areas," said Gregor.
According to Gregor, airspace around airports, stadiums and nuclear
power plants is controlled by more stringent FAA regulations.
He said the Flight Standards District Office is responsible for
enforcing FAA regulations. However, according to Gregor, the harshest
punishment for a pilot is usually a license suspension.
"Criminal charges are not usually pursued," he said,
but added, "If you are caught flying drunk you can be criminally
prosecuted. Pilots have gone to prison for that."
Kurt said there are temporary flight restrictions "whenever
the President is in town or something," but the greatest
restriction to VFR flights is the fog.
"Some days it will be foggy until late morning and you can
fly in the afternoon and that's it," Kurt lamented.
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