Lawmakers in the USA have been warned by the general aviation community against imposing stricter flight rules over urban areas in the aftermath of yesterday’s high-profile crash of a Cirrus Design SR20 into a Manhattan apartment building.
The crash, which killed New York Yankees baseball player Cory Lidle who was at the controls, happened at around 14:45 yesterday. The SR20 hit a building next to the East River. It sent the New York Stock Exchange into a brief downward curve amid fears of a repeat of the 11 September 2001 airborne terrorist attacks on the city’s World Trade Center.
Security officials say there was no indication of terrorist activity but fighter jets were scrambled as a precaution yesterday.
Cable news network CNN has released Coast Guard video footage of the impact. Television images in the USA of smoke billowing out of the apartment building, in which two people died, taking the death toll to four including Lidle’s flight instructor, prompted commentators to call for tighter controls of general aviation over urban areas. Lidle took off from New Jersey’s Teterboro Executive airport and flew under visual flight rules (VFR) after leaving the airport’s terminal control area.
Following 9/11 the US Federal Aviation Administration grounded light aircraft take-offs from around the country’s major airports and restricted small aircraft flights despite objections from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Associtaion ( AOPA). Yesterday the FAA issued a temporary flight restriction (TFR) over the accident scene in upper Manhattan. The TFR extended for 1nm (1.85km) around the scene and extends up to 1,500ft (450m) above sea level.
FAA regulations require private pilots to use transponders and to be guided by air traffic controllers in some urban airspace. Flights under VFR are banned above most European cities.
However, AOPA president Phil Boyer says he has been “working with the news media” to help “understand the nature of aviation activity in the New York area and urging them not to rush to judgment without facts”. The association has urged no further restrictions on general aviation in urban areas.
There are around 610,000 private pilots in the USA flying 220,000 aircraft from over 20,000 airports, the majority of which are small.
Adding more security restrictions to general aviation now would hamper the US economy says AOPA. “General aviation aircraft have never been used in an act of terrorism in the world,'' the association adds. "They don't make good terrorism weapons. They are about the size of an [sports utility vehicle] SUV and really cannot do a lot of damage.''
Security consultants have argued that the strengthening of security in smaller airfields is a lesser concern than potential weakness points such as maritime ports.
Air Security International points out that small aircraft do the same damage as heavy ground vehicles, except that airborne collisions are less frequent, thus more dramatic. General aviation aircraft would have too small a payload to carry sufficient explosive to be used by terrorists, the US Transportation Security Administration has concluded.