Incident could affect plans for a new "sport pilot" certificate, designed to make learning to fly easier

The US general aviation industry is braced for a backlash after the deliberate crash of a Cessna 172R into a Tampa, Florida, office block by a suicidal student. Only the 15-year-old pilot was killed in the 5 January incident.

Seeking to head off new restrictions on GA operations, industry associations point to security recommendations jointly submitted to the US Federal Aviation Administration in December and intended to prevent unauthorised use of aircraft. Whether the proposed rules would have prevented the Tampa incident is uncertain, admits the US General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

The student pilot, who had only 6h training, had arrived at St Petersburg/Clearwater airport for a scheduled flying lesson and had been left alone by his instructor to perform a pre-flight inspection. Instead he took off and, ignoring instructions to land from a US Coast Guard helicopter which intercepted the Cessna over Tampa, flew into the 42-storey Bank of America Plaza in central Tampa.

Industry is concerned the incident could impact plans to establish a new "sport pilot" certificate, designed to make it easier to learn to fly. After a lengthy delay, release of the FAA's notice of proposed rulemaking on the sport pilot certificate and associated light sport aircraft category is imminent.

A sport pilot certificate will require only 20h training, but will limit flying to single-engine, two-seat aircraft with a maximum gross weight of 560kg (1,232lb). This compares with the 1,110kg gross weight of a four-seat Cessna 172. Observers point to the lack of fatalities in the Tampa building and the limited damage caused by the crash.

Proponents of the sport pilot rule argue it will make GA safer and more secure by reducing ultra-light flying, which is unregulated. Sport pilots will be registered with the FAA and light sport aircraft will receive N registrations, making it easier to track their activity.

Source: Flight International