All posts tagged 'aviation law' - Page 3

California man sentenced for 'reckless' landing with no license and 'flying high'

Landing out of control on a California runway, while under the influence of marijuana and Oxycontin, landed Michael Dana McEnry with a federal prison sentence this week.

In a what-else-can-be-done-wrong-here series of events, McEnry, an unlicensed pilot with about 1,200 student hours, hovered ‘recklessly’ along Runway 12 at Eastern Sierra Regional Airport (BIH), Bishop, Calif., in a Cessna 210 before putting the wheels down just short of the end of the runway.

Federal prosecutors say another aircraft preparing to take off was in danger of striking his plane.

He then spun out in a field before turning back onto the runway, stopping and exiting.

McEnry then, according to a witness account, asked bystanders where he could find a restroom, because, “I just scared the s--- out of myself.”

Further, the reckless, illegal flyer seemed clueless of where he was. When told he asked, “Where is that in relationship to the rest of the world?”

When cops arrived, via local media reports, McEnry allegedly told them he “always flies high.”

Follow the jump to read more about the aircraft’s possible illegal origins. [more]

Police said they found a bottle of the powerful pain-reliever Oxycontin in the cabin.

The Central Valley Business Times looks deeper into law enforcement’s suspicion that the Cessna, a common plane used by narcotics smugglers, was stolen in Mexico in 1997 and changed hands several times. Investigators say McEnry and a business partner paid $40,000 cash for the aircraft and intended to use it to transport marijuana, as investigators say they found evidence of cultivation at the suspect’s residence.

A federal court in Fresno, Calif., sentenced McEnry this week to 21 months for the criminal flight in a plea deal, according to the Sacramento Bee. The Justice Department said he faced as long as a three-year sentence.

Bee reporter Denny Walsh concludes: “It remains unclear if (McEnry) landed at Bishop because the plane needed a pit stop or he did.”

The FAA gives anwers on the King-Santa Barbara ordeal, but questions remain

John and Martha King with their Cessna 172
prior to their fateful trip last weekend to Santa Barbara.

When something goes wrong, we usually can step backward and find multiple events that led to the collective mishap. It appears that happened again this week.

Many in the aviation community displayed outrage after police detained well-known King School owners John and Martha King last weekend, mistakenly believing the aircraft in which they were flying had been stolen. Guns drawn, officers handcuffed the couple and hauled them away in police cruisers.

Looking backward on this incident of mistaken identity, a chain of events can be found to blame. Now several national aviation groups, including the AOPA and NBAA, have urged government agencies to employ more efficient tactics so those who fly legally are not lumped together with the criminals who do not.

We spoke with several officials with the FAA and FBI about the incident to shed more light on what happened and how they think it could be kept from happening again. Now we will break down the King ordeal in Santa Barbara. Let us try to reconstruct what went wrong in chronological order, while also considering how to redirect efforts to avoid this from happening again. [more]

-          The FAA made a list of tail numbers, including the trouble-making N50545 from this event, available to the Cessna Aircraft Co.  The aircraft maker then attached it to a 2009 Cessna 172S that will be flown by, among others, John and Martha King.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told that aircraft manufacturers, including Cessna and others, often receive blocks of available registration numbers from the agency. This allows each company to deliver an aircraft directly to the buyer, simplifying the process of obtaining a new plane.

-          Through Oct. 1, old FAA rules have allowed retired tail numbers to be reissued two years after they are retired. The new rules, which writers have written several articles about, increase the timeframe between recycling tail numbers to five years. They take effect next month. The updated law also allows the FAA to better track to whom and to where an aircraft is registered by enforcing registration renewals more tightly.

So some of the work to help fix this has taken place already.

“This new endeavor will probably eliminate, to a huge degree, a 'Santa Barbara' occurrence in the future,” said FAA spokesman Mike Fergus in an email Monday. He served as an acting public affairs official for the west coast this week and normally represents the agency for issues in the northwest and Alaska. “Just how the C-150 number was reissued (the plane stolen in 2002 that sparked the mix-up) is not something I can track down.”

-          Fergus’ last line brings up another aspect in this bureaucratic snowball that involves several federal and local agencies. The Cessna 150 in question originally was reported stolen (and the Kings say the owner still never has recovered it) in 2002, seven years before last weekend’s incident. Thus, even if the new five-year FAA policy of recycling old tail numbers had taken affect years ago, it may have done little to prevent this particular case.

The FAA will now look into further options for handling the registration numbers of stolen planes, Brown said, including considering an AOPA suggestion to retire them outright.

-          The Kings’ filing of an IFR plan alerted law enforcement that a stolen plane may have been flying into Santa Barbara. They in turn argue the absurdity of a criminal filing a path that lets the government know their exact moves ahead of time.

The El Paso Information Center, a joint security force of several branches of federal government that is overseen by the DEA, tracks flight plans against a list of registration numbers from stolen aircraft (and the probably keep tabs on other suspect flights, too). Originally focused in the realm of border patrol, the facility’s roles and staff grew exponentially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Its employees now investigate many aspects of illegal immigration, terrorism and drug smuggling.

Nobody outside of the agency knows for sure exactly what happened at this point, as DEA public affairs officials told reporters this week they would dig for better answers before commenting, although AOPA reporter Alton K. Marsh talked to the right sources got a home run. (His report on the AOPA web site, perhaps the most thorough on this whole affair, also notes the case of a Cirrus aircraft that shares a tail number with a Piper that was stolen in Florida. The FAA will likely push to have both numbers removed from the stolen aircraft list.)

By calling a spokesman with the McKinney, Texas, police department, from where the Cessna 150 originally was stolen, Marsh’s reporting makes it increasingly clear that officials at EPIC learned somewhere along the line that the registration number did not, in fact, belong to the stolen 150 but to the 172 flown by the Kings. By the time the center tried to relay this to police in Santa Barbara, police already had detained the couple.

-          Though the DEA has not confirmed this, it is reasonable to assume, based on conversations with the FAA and other reports, the data alerting of the stolen aircraft originated from within the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. The FBI oversees the center, which includes data gathered by local, state and federal agencies from throughout the United States.

The center allows agencies to (most of the time quite intelligently) share information on fugitives, terrorists, sex offenders, stolen cars and goods, important tools to support crime fighting. However, according to FBI spokesman Bill Carter, it is up to the reporting agency to remove or change a report so other agencies can avoid the failure of acting on bad information.

The 172 flown by the Kings had been stopped 18 months beforehand with a Cessna employee at the yoke. The situation did not entail drawn guns and news media coverage, as it did in the King case. However, at that point, it gave investigators every reason in the world to remove the registration number in question from the NCIC.

“It’s happened with cars,” said FBI spokesman Bill Carter. “A stolen car is recovered and the police department fails to clear it.”

Imagine that one if you see a dozen officers behind you with guns drawn and all you did was run a red light.

To drive this home further, Carter noted that NCIC data alone is not probable cause for an officer to make an arrest.

Although the King situation exposed several chinks of armor in the registration and tracking of aircraft, along with how law enforcement uses that data to catch criminals, it is a cloud that also comes with a ray of sunshine.

The Kings received an apology from the Santa Barbara police chief and, in turn, they offered to work with the agency to help develop a more effective protocol for approaching suspect aircraft. The Kings hope that other agencies use the result in a nationwide model.

Furthermore, one also can be hopeful that the FAA and other involved federal agencies can modify their policies to ensure the innocent remain innocent so investigators’ time can be more effectively spent catching those who are not. No innocent person wants, or deserves, to be confused with someone else at gunpoint.

Handguns at the Security Checkpoint: Don't Do It.

According to a recent post on The TSA Blog, at least two passengers a day are caught at security checkpoints with a gun in their carry-on luggage. According to the post, when the passengers are caught, the most common response is "I didn't know it was in the bag." Unfortunately, that excuse works for the TSA just about as well as "the dog ate my homework" works for a high school teacher.

Once caught, a passenger potentially faces a number of consequences. First, the subsequent interaction with and interrogation by local law enforcement will quite often result in the passenger missing his or her flight. Next, the passenger could face criminal prosecution for violation of 49 C.F.R. 1540.111 which prohibits carriage of a weapon on your person or accessible carry-on luggage if security screening was required before boarding of the aircraft. The passenger may also be prosecuted under other local statutes that prohibit possession of a handgun at a checkpoint or in the secured area of an airport. [more]

Finally, and in addition to criminal prosecution, the TSA could also initiate a civil penalty action seeking to impose a civil penalty/monetary fine against the passenger for violation of 49 C.F.R. 1540.111 The penalty could range in amount from $1,500 to $7,500, depending upon whether or not the handgun was loaded. The civil penalty action is similar to an FAA enforcement action and does not provide as many constitutional rights and protections as a passenger would have in a criminal proceeding.

The TSA recommends, and I concur, that all passengers double check their carry-on baggage BEFORE arriving at the security checkpoint to confirm that they do not have a handgun or other prohibited item(s) in their luggage. Seems like a "no-brainer" to me. But, if you are caught "packing" at a checkpoint or in the secured area of an airport, hire an aviation attorney to help protect your rights.

For more information on the restrictions placed upon firearms at airports and in aircraft, please read my article on the topic: Carrying Firearms On Aircraft.

A look at the increasing trend of shining lasers at aircraft

FAA images via

Although government officials have tried to do more to prevent people from pointing lasers at aircraft, the number of reported incidents in America and elsewhere continues to grow.

Aviators need keep the issue in mind, especially when flying at night and when taking off or landing at airports near residential areas. When the intense, pulsing light of a laser hits the window of a cockpit, it can temporarily blind a pilot and compromise safety of the flight.

A 2004 FAA study showed that 75 percent of pilots exposed to a laser beam in the cockpit reported difficultly operating the aircraft (study pictured above). The shorter the distance and stronger the light, the more likely a pilot may have to abort a landing or take evasive action to get away from the beam.

Though Congress has yet to pass successfully a law to criminalize the act on a federal level (bills died in 2005 and 2007), many states have passed laws making it illegal to point a laser at an aircraft or have charged offenders under welfare endangerment or criminal mischief statutes. Other countries, including Britain and parts of Australia, have outright banned the use of some lasers in order to protect those in aircraft.

Despite the actions, however, the number of incidents and arrests continue to grow.

Just today, police in El Cajon, Calif., charged a 20-year-old man with a felony of pointing a laser at an aircraft. Officers say the man directed a beam into the windows of a police helicopter. The suspect’s friends reportedly said he wanted to see if officers would arrive if he pointed it at them. Well, he got his wish and then some.

Meanwhile in Atlantic City, N.J., pilots have filed 10 complaints this summer, stating they were targeted with lasers while flying into the airport there. Boardwalk venders in nearby Ocean City reluctantly agreed to stop selling high-powered pointers, which local government officials think are the culprit. [more]

North of the U.S. border, a man in Calgary, Canada, was charged this week after an incident similar to the California case, also involving an idiot, a laser and a police helicopter. The newspaper report, linked here, said the officers involved will remain grounded until doctors determine whether any long-term damage resulted from the exposure. After seeing the beam, the police donned protective eye gear and circled the area until they determined a location of the laser. Ground units then moved in and arrested the man, who said he merely pointed the laser at a mirror in his house and it accidentally reflected into the chopper’s windows.

Other notable incidents include several aircraft targeted near Seattle-Tacoma in 2009, prompting initial fears that the actions may have been be related to terrorist groups, though that was unfounded. A coordinated laser attack in Sydney, Australia in 2008 involved four laser beams that honed in on approaching planes, which led to the provincial government there outright banning the devices.   

A decade ago, when the FAA first looked into the issue of lasers and aircraft, the Western-Pacific regional field office reported 150 incidents between 1996 and 1999. By 2009, at the time of the Seattle-Tacoma incident, the agency said 150 laser-aircraft cases were reported in the first two months of the year alone.

Canada has seen a similar trend, reporting only a handful of cases a few years ago. Pilots filed more than 100 reports in each of the last three years, with the total for 2010 looking like it will be even higher.


The issue has become so widespread that it has been lampooned. The tech web site once offered a fictional “PlaneTag” laser device on its site as an April Fool’s gag, even offering to cover the first $25,000 of a user's fine.

However, lasers can also be an aviator’s friend, as well, warning them not to fly into restricted airspace, possibly mark areas for holding patterns, or to potentially be used as a military tool to track and destroy enemy missiles.

Additional tools soon will help pilots identify and track a laser beam. Earlier this summer, the FBI contracted the laser company Optra to develop a Laser Event Recorder tracking system to be installed on aircraft to capture a laser signal and pinpoint it with GPS, creating evidence on a USB drive to help convict a culprit.

In the meantime, perhaps, pilots can replace their traditional aviator sunglasses with this pair of laser-resistant shades. At least then, they can still look cool and not get blinded when flying.

Will Congress Ever Pass the FAA Reauthorization Bill?

Congress is still not getting the job done with the FAA Reauthorization bill.

In previous posts  on Plane Conversations I have discussed the issues surrounding all of the different provisions of the bill and why it still hasnt passed into law.

I still don’t know why Congress has to pile in all these controversial provisions that deal with Unionization of FedEx and landing slots at a couple airports into a major funding bill that has been in a stall for years.

The only reason I can think of is good old fashioned politics and game playing on the hill, and in the mean time issues with safety, upgrade of a severely outdated air traffic control infrastructure and long term funding to run the FAA gets postponed again.   

If those of us who run businesses and make payroll every week ran our business like these guys do business on “The Hill” we would have been out of business a long time ago.

Reporting from the Los Angeles Times by Julia Love, Tribune Washington Bureau in a July 30 article:

 Responding to the deaths of 50 people in the crash last year of a Continental Airlines flight near Buffalo, N.Y., Congress passed legislation Friday requiring increased training and experience for regional airline pilots.
The House passed the measure, which also extends Federal Aviation Administration funding, on a voice vote just before midnight Thursday, and the Senate approved identical legislation Friday morning. No member of either chamber objected.
The legislation requires all airline pilots to log at least 1,500 hours of flight time before flying passengers, up from the current 250-hour minimum for newly hired copilots. The bill also boosts training, mandates the creation of a national database of pilot records and aims to reduce pilot fatigue by directing the FAA to update rules on pilot duty hours.

So under political pressure from the families who suffered loss from the crash in Buffalo congress has passed a special bill dealing with pilot requirements and training for airlines.

 The target for the FAA long term funding reauthorization is now set for September 30.

 Any bets on whether they get it done before election time in November?

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