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"Grounded pilots criticize FAA response"



Saturday, September 22, 2001

Grounded pilots criticize FAA response
Emergency rules restricting flights of small planes have allowed
terrorists to win, some say 
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN 
The Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal


The winds are calm and the skies are clear, but the Cessnas and Pipers
are on the ground at Las Vegas' once-bustling small airports. 

In her office facing the runway at the North Las Vegas Airport, Lori
Cook is watching business wither on the vine. 

"We haven't turned a propeller since last Tuesday," the First Flight
Aviation school manager said with a grimace, referring to Sept. 11.
"Losses are huge right now." 

Emergency rules set in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks are
keeping all but a handful of small aircraft from the skies around Las
Vegas and other cities with major airports and military facilities. 

Private pilots complain that their sightseeing trips and family visits
have been grounded by excessive federal restrictions. 

Television news operations have been wondering how to cope with rules
that keep them from broadcasting breaking news from helicopters. 

And, from flight schools to hot air balloon companies, smaller aviation
businesses say they are weeks away from bankruptcy. 

Federal Aviation Administration officials said late Friday that they had
received notice that more flights were being allowed around Las Vegas,
although details remained murky. 

Area business owners said they might not be able to spring back, even as
flight restrictions ease and the local economy recovers. 

"Another week of this and I'm really going to have to make some hard
decisions," said Chuck Herrmann, who said he is mulling the closure of
his Henderson Executive Airport flight school. "We're just sitting here
watching our retirement drift away." 

Before the attacks, private aviation generally had been permitted below
the airspace around McCarran International Airport and Nellis Air Force
Base. This week, restrictions have been slowly easing in the wake of the
complete shutdown of private flights immediately after the World Trade
Center and Pentagon attacks. 

By Friday afternoon, flights below what is known as Class B airspace,
which covers much of Clark County, were being allowed only for pilots
with flight plans approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. But
flight schools remained grounded, and the uncertainty surrounding the
ever-changing federal rules was keeping many pilots away. 

Many said they were unable to fly to small Nevada, California and
Arizona airports that did not have equipment allowing them to meet the
FAA's requirement that only flights using instruments for navigation, in
addition to pilots' visual measurements, can take off and land. 

FAA officials did not provide details Friday on the reasons for the
general aviation limits or how long they will last. 

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. John Wells of Henderson said he is infuriated
that the rules prevent him from flying his private plane out of Boulder
City's small airport. 

"They're absurd. The terrorists were going after the airliners," he said
Friday. "I not only can't fly my airplane, I can't move it to another
city." 

Herrmann echoed the feeling, common among pilots and business owners,
that private aircraft have been unfairly restricted. 

"What our government's doing is allowing the terrorists to succeed in
destroying a lot of businesses," he said. "They wanted to disrupt the
U.S. economy, and they're doing a pretty good job." 

Las Vegas' small but growing hot air balloon tour industry also worries
about the future. 

"I think they're going to make a ruling where you're not going to be
able (to fly balloons) in the valley," said Ron Dupee of Memory Makers,
a local balloon company. "There's a lot of people whose livelihood
depends on ballooning here in the valley." 

Before the attacks, KLAS-TV, Channel 8 put a helicopter into the skies
above Las Vegas during the station's 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
broadcasts to provide coverage of any breaking news. 

No more. 

"It's not our normal operation," news director Gene Ross said Friday.
"People want to see breaking news, and getting to the scene quickly and
getting those pictures on the air is real important." 

Many aircraft mechanics also foresee bankruptcy. 

Medallion Engines and Aircraft Services owner Karlene Lashua said her
North Las Vegas business probably won't be able to last more than a
month if the limits persist. 

Lashua said, "If people can't fly their airplanes then they can't break
their airplanes, and I can't fix them if they don't break them."

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