Saturday, October 04, 2014

China, Russia flex muscles in increasing number of close calls with United States aircraft

The Washington Post
By Craig Whitlock
October 4 at 8:32 PM

A recent spate of dangerous midair encounters between American military aircraft and Chinese and Russian planes in the Pacific is the result of increasingly assertive strategies by both U.S. adversaries to project power far beyond their borders, according to the top U.S. Air Force commander in the region.

Air Force Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the head of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, said China’s naval and air forces in particular are “very much continuing to push” and becoming more active in international waters and airspace in Asia.

“They still talk about the century of humiliation in the last century. They still talk about this as the rise of China,” Carlisle said in an interview. “They still talk about this as their great nation. And they want to continue to demonstrate that.”

Carlisle said U.S. and Chinese forces are frequently encountering each other in parts of the East China and South China seas where they rarely came into contact in the past. Since commissioning its first aircraft carrier two years ago, China’s navy has conducted more exercises farther away from its shores and is closely patrolling areas in disputed waters where Chinese companies are drilling for oil.

Those movements have prompted the U.S. military in turn to deploy its ships and reconnaissance aircraft to keep a close watch. China’s military usually responds by conducting intercepts of U.S. aircraft as the two sides jockey for position, Carlisle said.

“All of that makes their tension go up a little bit,” he added.

U.S. officials said one such encounter got out of hand in August, when a Chinese J-11 fighter jet flashed past a Navy Poseidon P-8 patrol aircraft, performing a “barrel roll” at close range and bringing its wingtip within 20 feet of the U.S. plane. That incident occurred in international airspace about 135 miles east of China’s Hainan Island.

At the time, Pentagon officials protested publicly and released photos of the near-miss, which they cited as evidence of rash and irresponsible behavior on the part of the Chinese pilot. They said the same Chinese military unit had conducted three other risky intercepts of U.S. aircraft earlier in the year.

Carlisle was more measured in his assessment, saying that there has always been “an ebb and flow” in the number of Chinese intercepts and that he didn’t think China’s military leadership was looking to provoke a conflict.

“I personally don’t think it needs to get too much hype,” said Carlisle, who will leave his post in the Pacific this month to take a new assignment as chief of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Va. But he acknowledged that “the opportunity for something to go wrong” will likely increase as China’s military gathers strength and moves farther afield.

To prevent such incidents, the Pentagon has tried to enhance communications channels and expand formal ties with the People’s Liberation Army in recent years. Although U.S. officials said progress has been made, they added that they didn’t expect to solve the issue overnight.

“I am disappointed. Am I surprised? I’m not necessarily surprised,” Adm. Samuel Locklear, the chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said at a Sept. 25 news briefing at the Pentagon, when asked about the close calls. He added that the “vast majority” of interactions between U.S. and Chinese military aircraft and ships resulted in no problems. “It’s those outliers that concern us.”

While the Pentagon has long expected an increase in Chinese military activity in the Pacific, it has also had to confront a resurgent Russia, which is conducting more long-range reconnaissance and bomber missions in the region and even approaching U.S. territory.

On Sept. 17, U.S. fighter jets intercepted a half-dozen Russian military planes — two fighter jets, two long-range bombers and two refueling tankers — as they were flying in international airspace near the coast of Alaska. U.S. officials said they have also seen an increase in Russian bombers flying near Guam, the U.S. territory in the Pacific.

Carlisle attributed the Russian flights to a strategy by President Vladi­mir Putin “to reassert Russia into what he thinks its rightful place in the international order is, and part of that is continuing to push into the Pacific.”

He described the Russian maneuvers as “a little harder to figure out” in comparison with Chinese military actions, which he called “more rational.”

Russia has also become more active in airspace between its Pacific border and Japan, prompting a sharp rise in Japanese intercepts of Russian military aircraft over the past year.

In turn, Russia hasn’t hesitated to challenge U.S. reconnaissance flights near its territory. In April, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet flew within 100 feet of a U.S. Air Force RC-135U aircraft that was operating in international airspace over the Sea of Okhotsk, prompting complaints from the Pentagon.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.

- Source:

Celier Xenon R, N719MB: Fatal accident occurred October 04, 2014 in Loma, Colorado

NTSB Identification: CEN15LA004
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, October 04, 2014 in Loma, CO
Aircraft: CELIER AVIATION XENON R, registration: N719MB
Injuries: 2 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On October 4, 2014, about 1817 mountain daylight time, a Celier Aviation model Xenon R gyroplane, N719MB, was destroyed when it impacted power transmission wires near Loma, Colorado. The commercial pilot and passenger received fatal injuries. The aircraft was registered to Western Centurion LLC, and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which was not on a flight plan. The local flight originated from the Grand Junction Regional Airport, Grand Junction, Colorado, about 1800.


Mark Shook in a photo from the Colorado Rotorcraft Association website

Mark Shook was among the most expert pilots of rotorcraft -- a helicopter-like vehicle sometimes called a gyroplane -- in the Rocky Mountain region. He was president of the Colorado Rotorcraft Association and had been flying for many years. So it was a shock to the entire rotorcraft community when he was identified as one of two victims in a tragic accident that took place in Western Colorado this weekend.

Read more here:

GRAND JUNCTION — A pilot and passenger killed in a crash in western Colorado on Saturday were in-laws who had decided to fly over the Colorado National Monument, a family member said.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported Wednesday ( that Mark Shook, 61, was an experienced aviator and businessman and a former school board member.

His wife’s sister, Rebecca Molle, 50, was the passenger. She was an avid horsewoman who had worked as a dental assistant.

The Xenon R gyroplane crashed into the Colorado River northwest of Grand Junction. Gyroplanes look like helicopters, but they are powered by propellers. Air flow created by the aircraft’s forward motion spins the rotors, which provide lift.

Shook and Molle intended to fly over the national monument, a 32-square-mile preserve of plateaus and canyons outside Grand Junction, Shook’s son Tom said. They took off from Grand Junction Regional Airport.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report said the aircraft struck power lines. The cause is under investigation.

Shook and Molle were the only people aboard, and no one on the ground was injured, officials said. The Mesa County Coroner’s Office said Shook died of injuries from the crash and Molle drowned.

Tom Shook said his father lived in Peyton, about 25 miles northeast of Colorado Springs and was visiting Molle, who lived in Grand Junction.

Mark Shook served on the board of the Meadow Lake Airport in Peyton. “He was always a big enthusiast of aviation and tried to share it with everybody,” his son said.

Mark Shook had served in the Army and owned a retail audio and electronics business. He had served on the Falcon School District board and taught a Sunday school class for prison inmates.

Molle moved to Colorado in 2010 from California. She had studied at Pikes Peak Community College.

A yellow, two-seat helicopter crashed into the Colorado River Saturday evening, Oct. 4, 2014 not far from the Loma exit off Interstate 70. A witness confirmed two fatalities as a result of the crash. Due to the remote nature of the accident scene, another helicopter was called into service to ferry personnel back and forth from the crash site. 
(AP Photo/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Christopher Tomlison)

A witness with eyes on the crash scene of a helicopter that was downed in the Colorado River near Loma reports that there are two fatalities asa result of the crash.

Radio traffic seems to confirm the two fatalities.

The crash site is not easily accessible, so another helicopter has been dispatched to ferry personnel back and forth from the scene.

The closest major roadway is the Loma exit of Interstate 70.

- Source:

LOMA, Colo. Grand Valley Power confirms that many people throughout the valley are without power Saturday night due to the helicopter crash near Loma. Sources with GVP say the helicopter may have damaged their power lines.
According to the GVP outage website, nearly 600 homes are without power as of 8:15 p.m. Saturday night.

Emergency radio traffic indicates the Mesa County Coroner has been paged to the scene of a helicopter crash in the Colorado River near Loma. The page went out at roughly 7:40 p.m. Saturday evening.

We have confirmed that a Xenon Gyroplane helicopter crashed in the Colorado River near Loma. At least two people were on board at the time of the crash.

According to the FAA's Allen Kenitzer: "There was an aircraft accident Saturday near Loma, Colo. The aircraft, a Xenon Gyroplane, crashed under unknown circumstances into the Colorado River near Highway 6, Exit 15."

All information regarding the crash is as a result of a preliminary investigation and is subject to change.

Multiple agencies responded to the area of I-70 at exit 15 near Loma at around 6:10 p.m.

Emergency radio traffic indicates someone was in the river attempting to get a victim out of the helicopter. Our crews on scene say two fishermen saw the crash occur and entered the river trying to rescue the victims.

MESA COUNTY – At least two people were aboard a helicopter that crashed into the Colorado River Saturday near Loma, Allen Kenitzer with the Federal Aviation Administration confirms.

The aircraft, identified by Kenitzer as a Xenon Gyroplane, crashed under unknown circumstances near Highway 6, exit 15.

Both the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

Loma is located just northwest of Grand Junction, near McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area.

No additional information was immediately available.

- Source:

Gwinnett County Police Aviation unit patrols in different way (with photo gallery and video)

Gwinnett County Police Aviation unit manager, Lou Gregoire, stands with one of the unit’s helicopters at Gwinnett Airport at Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville after returning from duty. 
(Photo Credit/Courtesy: David Welker)

LAWRENCEVILLE — For nearly 40 years, a different kind of police unit has patrolled Gwinnett County. 

 Its officers wear jumpsuits, helmets and headsets with microphones angled toward their lips. They hover 500 feet above the earth by day and 1,000 at night, keeping a watchful eye over crime-ridden neighborhoods and assisting officers working on the ground. They can get from the Lawrenceville airport to any edge of the county in less than 10 minutes, even in the worst of rush hour.

Their unit got started back in 1975, under the leadership of then-chief John Crunkleton.

“Aviation units were becoming recognized as a valuable tool in law enforcement,” explained Lou Gregoire, Gwinnett police’s current aviation manager. “The agencies that had any area to cover recognized they could cover that distance a lot faster and more safely than in a patrol car. An officer or two in the air in a helicopter can do the work of about five patrol cars.”

Those benefits are still seen today.

“Our helicopter is able to respond to incidents quickly and provide valuable intelligence, which improves the efficiency and safety of officers on the ground,” said Police Chief Charlie Walters, who has headed Gwinnett police for the last 11 years. “The aviation unit is a vital resource in delivering effective law enforcement services to the citizens of Gwinnett County.”

Of course, 39 years later, the way those services are delivered has changed a bit.

The unit began with a few “MASH-type helicopters” and Vietnam War-era pilots. For a few years, they even operated a twin-engine Cessna that was used to pick up prisoners who were wanted in Gwinnett, from other jurisdictions within 500 nautical miles (about 575 road miles).

Today, two more modern — though still more than 20-year-old — McDonald Douglas helicopters make up the division’s fleet. Constant maintenance and care keeps the aging machines up to the task. The handful of officers assigned to the unit at any given time now are often recreational pilots who are brought over from road duty.

Gregoire, who flew growing up and served as a mechanic in the United States Air Force, said police work is different at hundreds of feet above the ground, though some of the same principles apply.

“We don’t have to deal with people. Much more of a support role,” he said. But dealing with crime is “an instinct you develop over years of police work, and it transitions from the police car into the cockpit fairly well.”

With 430 square miles of territory to cover, the officers assigned to the air get plenty of time to exercise those skills. The unit typically flies every day and night. After dark, two officers are needed, one to fly and watch a screen showing video from night-vision cameras under the chopper, and another to communicate with other units on the radio.

Normally, Gregoire says, the pilots aid in missing person cases, dangerous warrant service and suspect chases. Not that the officers on the ground can’t handle it — they just can’t see as well.

“When you see from 500 feet, it’s not like an airplane where the detail is very small; you can see individuals walking their dog, you can see what kind of dog it is,” Gregoire said. “When somebody’s on the ground running from the police, you can see what kind of clothes they’re wearing.”

The visibility and speed are the two chief factors that make the unit valuable.

Letting criminals know Gwinnett County PD is watching is also important. The police department’s crime analysis team regularly sends over data on crime trends and “hot areas,” as the aviation manager puts it, and when not out on other calls, the aviation officers patrol those areas.

“That’s to stop the crimes just by being loitering in the air,” Gregoire said.

They also sometimes watch over major roadways for driving violations.

When they spot something abnormal, the aviation officers alert officers on the ground, who go and finish the job.

To some, the support role could make the workday seem less exciting or fulfilling for the officers hovering overhead than it is for those actually confronting suspects face-to-face and making arrests. But if Gregoire’s attitude is any indication, the unit is just fine working day-in-day-out giving assists to the troops on the ground, never getting the glory. They’re happy to be team players.

Plus, a helicopter is just a little more interesting than a police cruiser.

“It’s a magic carpet ride,” Gregoire said. “I can’t believe they let me do this everyday. I tell people I’m one of the five luckiest people in the department. I haven’t had to go to work since I came to aviation.”

Story, Photo Gallery and Video:

Aeronca 7AC, N85707: Accident occurred October 04, 2014 near Montvale Airpark (TN87), Maryville, Tennessee

NTSB Identification: ERA15CA007
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, October 04, 2014 in Maryville, TN
Probable Cause Approval Date: 04/21/2015
Aircraft: AERONCA 7AC, registration: N85707
Injuries: 2 Minor.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

According to the pilot/owner, he had purchased the airplane a few weeks prior to the accident and the flight was to accomplish training in a conventional landing gear airplane. During the training flight, numerous takeoffs and landings were accomplished at various airports in the area. While on the final leg of the traffic pattern the flight instructor (CFI) commanded a go-around maneuver and the pilot/owner stated that he "had the landing." The CFI again instructed that the go-around maneuver be performed and he advanced the throttle to full power. The pilot/owner applied back pressure and maintained the best rate of climb. According to the CFI, the pilot/owner was informed that the airplane was "high and hot" on final, after repeating that, the throttle was advanced, by the pilot/owner, and a go-around maneuver began. Neither of the pilots remembered advancing the throttle. The airplane impacted the approximate 60-foot tall trees at the departure end of the runway and nosed over, coming to rest inverted at the base of the trees, which resulted in substantial damage to the fuselage, wings, and rudder. The intended runway had a 42 foot incline, residence on the left side, and high tension powerlines on the right side. Both pilots reported that there were no mechanical malfunctions or abnormalities that would have precluded normal operation.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot/owner's failure to maintain a stabilized approach during the final leg of the traffic pattern. Contributing to the accident was both pilot's lack of aeronautical decision making.


(WBIR) The Blount County Sheriff's Office said a small plane crash injured two men around 6:15 p.m. Saturday when they crashed into some trees.

The pilot, Charles W. Hall, 65, of Newbergh, Indiana told deputies he was attempting to land on a strip off Greenwich Drive when he realized the plane was too low. He said when he attempted to pull up, the plane crashed into trees because the plane didn't have enough power.

Hall was flown by Life Star to UT Medical Center. His passenger, Julian R. Murphy, 50, of Knoxville was taken by ambulance to Park West Hospital. Murphy has been treated and released.

According to the FAA, Hall was flying an Aeronca 7AC, single engine, two seater, aircraft The FAA said it will be investigating.

Two men were injured this evening after a small plane crashed off Greenwich Drive in Maryville.

The Blount County Sheriff’s Office is handling the investigation, but details surrounding the crash were not immediately available.

One man was transported by Lifestar helicopter to University of Tennessee Medical Center, while one was transported by Rural/Metro Ambulance Service to Blount Memorial Hospital.

Blount County authorities were notified of the crash at around 6:15 p.m.

A resident who lives in the area said the plane was an Aeronca Champ aircraft and took off from a small private airstrip behind Greenwich Drive.

The Blount County Fire Department and Blount County Rescue Squad also responded.

- Source:


The bumpy ride of PEOPLExpress

The deal was: restore daily flights to Boston and New York, and Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport will pay $1.65 million of taxpayer funds to keep PEOPLExpress in the air.

But after two months and a first payment of $650,000 from taxpayers, PEOPLExpress is grounded.

Local officials are still convinced they did the right thing by promising taxpayer support for a start-up business that raised far less money from investors than it said it needed, was paying off six-figure federal tax liens and other IOUs, and never came up with airplanes of its own. Instead, People Express had hired a company that faced big bills and court judgments of its own to fly planes on its behalf.

"It was a risk, sure. But the potential benefit is huge," said Newport News City Manager Jim Bourey, who is chairman of the Peninsula Airport Commission.

The problem, he said, is that the operator People Express hired, Las Vegas-based Vision Airlines, provided two planes instead of the three People Express needed and said it had when it announced the start of service.

Vision is the company that actually receives the subsidy funds. Its agreement with the airport commission — signed just four days before it started flying the People Express service — calls on it to provide daily flights to and from Boston and Newark. It does not say how many planes it will commit to the service or guarantee that it will supply replacement planes if needed.

When one of the two planes in the People Express service was disabled by an accident with a truck on Sept. 19 and the other developed engine trouble, People Express had to suspend all operations.

"We and Vision planned for a third aircraft but it never happened. Sub service was pursued but without success," said Jeffrey Erickson, People Express' chief executive officer, when asked if his company's lease agreement was for three planes and if it provided for replacement aircraft to substitute if any of its planes went out of service.

People Express is hoping to resume flights on Oct. 16, but it needs to find another firm to operate planes first — and it needs to do so after paying out a six-figure sum in passenger refunds with a couple million more in the hands of credit card companies, which don't release funds to airlines until a customer's flight is completed.

People Express is out some money then, but so is the airport commission.

So far, the commission has paid $650,000 to Vision as an advance out of the $1.65 million of federal and local grants committed to the People Express service. The U.S. Department of Transportation has so far approved reimbursing the commission for $581,000 of the grant funds. The commission's agreement gives Vision 30 days to resume service or the deal is off. That means the remaining $1 million won't be paid, while Bourey believes at least some of the $650,000 can be recovered.

The money that's been paid is coming from the federal grant, Bourey said. The $700,000 in local funds is still in the bank. It and the balance of the federal grant, amounting to $1 million in all, are to be paid when Vision has flown for a year, according to the agreement between the airline and the airport commission.

$200,000 owed to IRS

Bourey said local officials knew that People Express owed more than $200,000 to the Internal Revenue Service and $182,000 to a Chicago aircraft leasing firm when they agreed to the taxpayer subsidy.

In addition to checking for liens and judgments against People Express, Bourey said, he and other officials got a good look at People Express' balance sheet shortly before a regional group of economic development officials — the Regional Air Service Enhancement Committee, known as RAISE — voted on the local subsidy. He said they saw a repayment schedule for the tax liens.

Although the money was actually going to Vision, as the operator of the planes, local officials did not get a look at Vision's private financial records, Bourey said. They relied instead on its federal certification as assurance that it had the wherewithal to run the service. Federal aviation regulators look at an air carrier's financial position when certifying it for operation.

Bourey said a check for judgments against Vision found a claim left from an earlier agreement to operate planes for another air service that Vision argued was the other company's responsibility.

A Daily Press search of federal court records also found a $1.7 million federal court judgment outstanding against Vision at the time local officials approved the local subsidy and the airport negotiated its agreement with the air carrier. A federal judge ordered the payment when he found that the company withheld hazard pay to a pilot it hired to fly into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Also in effect at the time the subsidy was granted was a federal court injunction to keep Vision from flying its planes out of the country with an engine on which it had missed $93,695 in rent and maintenance payments.

Officials from Vision did not respond to messages left on their voice mails or to email questions about the suspended service, its negotiations with the airport commission or its financial health.

Luring an airline

It's not unusual for communities with smaller airports, particularly if they've recently lost service, to use federal and local taxpayer funds to lure new airlines. The federal money the airport commission is using came directly to it in 2012.

Washington believes in supporting regional air services, and similar subsidies helped bring Frontier Airlines as well as the discount airline AirTran to Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport. It was the gap left by AirTran's departure, and the loss of its service to Boston and New York, that People Express is supposed to fill.

Bourey said that while the $700,000 local subsidy promised for the People Express system is significant, it is smaller than the public support that went to AirTran and less than what airports elsewhere pay to subsidize services.

But while the Peninsula's subsidy for People Express was in the midrange of what communities put on the table, it differed from the Frontier and AirTran support, and from what most other communities do to woo airlines because People Express was a start-up, Bourey said.

In addition to the subsidy, the airport commission waived fees totaling $1.90 per passenger that it charges other airlines, as well as landing fees, its minutes show. And the bulk of the $269,000 that the commission spent on advertising and marketing in June was for People Express.

Erickson would not comment on the company's financial position, but the airline has reported that it carried 55,000 passengers in its first two months, when it was offering fares as low as $56 to New York and Boston.

The break on fees along with the federal and state grants come to almost $2 million — roughly one-third of the $6 million that People Express raised in its first stock offering.

And that $6 million is less than one-third the amount People Express told investors in 2011 it needed to launch its service, according to a document included in court records in a lawsuit over a trademark dispute.

People Express started pitching its story to investors months before Chesapeake businessman Michael Morisi's February 2012 announcement that he planned to launch the airline from a base in Newport News that would eventually employ 1,000 people.

Morisi began his career — which he has said ranged from work as an assistant conditioning coach for the Washington Redskins to airline operations — with a job at the old People Express before it merged with Continental Airlines in the 1980s.

The idea of relaunching the airline started as a joke on the Facebook page of a group of the old People Express' alumni, he has said. An overnight drive to New York and a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with an investor in aviation businesses brought the idea to life and started a fundraising effort.

By October 2011, that effort had generated a grand total of $250,000 from six people, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The filing began a three-year fundraising effort. When it ended this year, People Express had raised roughly $6 million from 140 investors, company CEO Erickson said in an interview last week.

The memorandum People Express prepared for investors in 2011 said the new airline would need $19.4 million to cover start-up expenses.

People Express told investors it expected to start with three airplanes and to have a fleet of five planes after seven months of operation. By then, it said, it would be well on its way to a first-year profit of $4.7 million on sales of $77.9 million.

At its current standard fares, that would mean carrying more than twice the number of passengers it flew with its customer-wooing discount fares in its first two months.

$10,000 fine

When Morisi announced in February 2012 that People Express was going to fly again, the company also began marketing discount fares on future flights — more than a month before it applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for authority to operate. It paid a $10,000 fine when federal officials objected.

Though the company applied for FAA certification in March, it is not currently undergoing the agency's certification process, spokeswoman Alison Duquette said.

Instead, it is operating under a so-called "wet lease" with Vision – which basically means Vision is paid for the use of the planes, their maintenance and insurance and the crews that operate them.

People Express opted for the Vision leases after the purchase of an Idaho-based charter airline that it announced in June 2013 fell apart.

People Express gave no details about the purchase terms for Xtra Airways, though it had access to $565,000 from local governments to finance the deal. The money was held in an escrow account for People Express to use.

It was also in June 2013 that People Express and Xtra borrowed $250,000 from a Chicago commercial aircraft leasing company. In return, Morisi promised to repay money Xtra owed the Chicago firm and signed a promissory note for $171,000, with that sum to be paid by October. It wasn't. In December, a federal judged ordered People Express to pay the note plus interest.

People Express was already having trouble with other bills when it accepted the $565,000 from the Regional Air Service Enhancement Committee to help buy Xtra. (That money has now come back to the Peninsula Airport Commission as a condition to releasing the first chunk of subsidy to Vision.)

In February 2013, the Virginia Employment Commission recorded a lien against People Express for $1,307 of unpaid taxes

And in April 2013, the Internal Revenue Service filed the first of two liens for unpaid taxes, this one for $137,000.

By February of this year, Erickson was saying the Xtra deal was "on the back burner," adding that his focus was nailing down funds to start flights.

Four weeks ago, the company told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission it planned a private sale of up to $5 million worth of shares. It expects the effort to last for more than a year.

Josh Weinshank, director of operations for the Idaho airline, wouldn't comment when asked why the deal fell apart. Xtra Airways, which owns two Boeing 737s, filed a plan to emerge from bankruptcy last month, on the strength of a $3.5 million outside investment.

People Express paid off its tax liens 11 days ago — five days after a Sept. 19 mishap with a truck put one of its two leased planes out of action. Engine problems with the second, and its inability to get hold of any replacement forced it to suspend all operations on Sept. 26.

"They really should have had three planes," Bourey commented. "That's something we will want to see."


Key events in the People Express saga:

Aug. 1, 2011: AirTran says it will end its daily service to New York and Boston in March 2012.

August 2011: People Express writes an Information Circular for $20 million financing from investors, estimates start-up costs at $19 million.

Oct. 10, 2011: People Express reports that it has raised $250,000 from six investors.

Feb. 13, 2012: People Express founder Michael Morisi says he is launching the airline, with $69 flights to Newark, Providence, R.I., Pittsburgh, Orlando and West Palm Beach, says the airline will eventually employ 1,000. People Express begins marketing air service, with a travel club that will provide discount fares.

March 19, 2012: People Express applies for certificate to operate scheduled air service.

May 9, 2012: U.S. Department of Transportation fines People Express $10,000 for marketing discounted fares before obtaining permission to operate.

Aug. 9, 2012: Morisi says he expects to receive federal certificate as a scheduled airline in early 2013 and to begin flight operations in the spring.

Aug. 15, 2012: U.S. Department of Transportation awards $950,000 grant to Peninsula Airport Commission to be used to attract an airline to offer service to New York and Boston.

Jan. 9, 2013: Regional Air Service Enhancement Committee (RAISE) puts $565,000 in escrow for People Express, to acquire an unnamed charter air service operator.

Jan. 31, 2013: Morisi says he is considering moving headquarters to Pittsburgh.

March 1, 2013: RAISE grants four-and-a-half-month extension of $565,000 escrow agreement to People Express.

March 14, 2013: People Express reports signing purchase agreement for charter firm, but won't name it. It does not use the escrowed funds.

April 23, 2013: IRS files tax lien against People Express for $137,208 of unpaid taxes.

June 5, 2013: People Express says it has acquired Xtra Airways, a Boise, Idaho, charter air service.

June 25, 2013: Morisi, on behalf of People Express and Xtra, borrows $250,000 from a Chicago aircraft leasing firm; the company is a creditor of Xtra. In addition to a promise to pay Xtra's debt to the firm, Morisi signs a $171,000 IOU.

Sept. 18, 2013: People Express and Xtra miss a due date for first $21,000 due on note to Chicago leasing firm.

Oct. 2, 2013: People Express names Jeffrey Erickson CEO.

Oct. 3, 2013: People Express and Xtra miss the due late for the remaining $150,000 due to Chicago firm.

Dec. 11. 2013: U.S. District Court in Chicago orders People Express, Xtra and Morisi to pay the Chicago firm $185,820 for the IOU and accrued interest.

Feb. 27, 2014: Erickson says airline awaiting funding before beginning operations; Xtra purchase "on the back burner."

April 16, 2014: IRS files a second lien against People Express, this one for $71,659.

May 30, 2014: People Express announces daily flights to Boston, Newark and Pittsburgh to begin June 30, with three Boeing 737s leased from Vision Airlines.

June 5, 2014: RAISE approves $700,650 subsidy grant for the People Express service, as required matching funds for a federal grant to the airport to expand service.

June 6, 2014: Newport News Economic Development Authority, as fiscal agent for RAISE, approves by a 6-0 vote the $700,650 grant.

June 26, 2014: Peninsula Airport Commission and Vision sign an agreement promising payments of $1.65 million in return for one year of daily service to and from Boston and to and from the New York area, at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

June 30, 2014: People Express service begins.

Sept. 12, 2014: People Express tells U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission it plans a private sale of up to $5 million worth of stock.

Sept 19, 2014: Accident with a truck takes one of People Express' two planes out of service.

Sept. 24, 2014: People Express repays all back taxes; IRS ends liens.

Sept. 26, 2014: People Express cancels all flights, with no public notice, after engine problems idle the only other plane available.


The Regional Air Service Enhancement Committee, or RAISE, is a little-known public body formed in 2012, about six months after AirTran announced it was dropping service to Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport. Its mission is to woo new airlines to the airport.

Its members are the cities of Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg and Poquoson and the counties of Gloucester, James City and York.

Newport News agreed to pay 60 cents per resident per year for the effort. The others pay 40 cents. They've done so for two years now and will continue for three more.

Annual payments amount to:

Newport News: $108,431

Hampton: $54,974

James City: $26,804

York: $26,186

Gloucester: $14,743

Williamsburg: $5,627

Poquoson: $4,860

Each community is represented by a member of its Economic Development Authority board and its director of development. The executive director of the Peninsula Airport Commission and representatives from the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance and the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development also sit on the committee. It meets quarterly.

- Source:

Delta Air Lines threatens legal action against the city of Dallas

An attorney for Delta Air Lines Inc. threatened to sue the city of Dallas unless it takes “immediate action to implement a short-term solution” that keeps the Atlanta-based airline flying from Dallas Love Field.

In a nine-page letter to Dallas aviation director Mark Duebner, attorney Kenneth Quinn demanded that the city find room for Delta, which has been flying from Love Field since 2008. It flies five daily nonstops to Atlanta and had planned to add more flights after the Wright amendment expires Oct. 13.

Earlier this week, the city told Delta that it would have to leave Love Field come Oct. 13 because there was no space to accommodate it.

The new Love Field has 20 gates, 16 of which are being used by Southwest Airlines. Two others will be used by Virgin America beginning Oct. 13, and the final two are leased by United Airlines. United is subleasing one to Southwest and has told the city it will use the second to increase its flights to Houston next year.

In his letter, Quinn said Delta was under the impression “as recently as last week” that the city “had notified United by letter that it must accommodate Delta on its gates.”

Instead, United handed over one of its gates to Dallas-based Southwest, which had been looking to add to its gates at the city-owned airport.

Delta also said United was not playing fair with its second gate. While the airline is doubling its flights to Houston, it’s also going to “triple its aircraft ground times in an effort to preclude Delta from using its gates,” Quinn said.

In his letter to Duebner, Quinn included a copy of United’s proposed service levels in 2015, showing that each plane will spend about 90 minutes on the ground, which is three times longer than its planes spend on the ground now.

“It is simply not true, as the city would have it, that there is no room at the inn for Delta,” Quinn said in his letter. “The truth is, the city decided the available gate space should go to hometown favorite Southwest — which already controls 80 percent of the gates at Love Field — instead of to Delta, which would have used the gate space to compete with Southwest.”

Duebner, First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans and City Attorney Warren Ernst did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Earlier this week, City Manager A.C. Gonzalez said, “We understand that while the situation we’re looking at is subject to some disagreement, we are going to maintain our view that we want full utilization and robust competition for Love Field.”

Quinn said that at the minimum, Delta wants the city to let it keep flying out of Love Field until January, if only to accommodate the 16,000 passengers who have already purchased tickets out of the airport. But it also wants to stay in Dallas. Anything less, writes Quinn, will probably wind up with a trip to the courthouse.

“Although we are hopeful that the city will accommodate Delta’s request,” he writes, “these attempts to resolve this matter will not preclude Delta from seeking additional relief at law or in equity.”

Delta also had asked Virgin America to find space for Delta’s flights at Virgin’s two gates. Virgin America chief executive David Cush said his carrier turned down Delta’s request.

“Our answer is: We’re fully utilizing our gates,” Cush said this week.

Virgin America will move its operations from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Love Field on Oct. 13, the day that federal law will allow nonstop service from Dallas to any U.S. airport. It begins operations with nine departures a day, going to 13 departures Oct. 28 and 16 departures in April.

Virgin America is allowing tiny carrier SeaPort Airlines to use its gates for two daily departures for El Dorado, Ark.

“We’ll accommodate them as long as we can. We’ll see how long it is,” Cush said.

“But certainly with 16 flights, we can accommodate them. With 18, it’ll be a little trickier,” he said. “But you know, they wanted two flights a day. They didn’t want the pattern of service that Delta was looking for.”

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General aviation flights declining on Long Island, nationwide

Edward Libassi, owner of A&P Aviation Consulting and A&P Aircraft Maintenance in Ronkonkoma, stands in his shop on Saturday, October 4, 2014.
 (Credit: Ed Betz) 

Every Wednesday, a friendly pilot landed at Long Island MacArthur Airport with bagels and coffee to share with the mechanics at Edward Libassi's shop. On Thursdays, another pilot arrived with hot cross buns.

Those social drop-ins have largely ended -- one of the many signs of a major decline in general aviation flights on Long Island and nationwide that has spanned nearly 15 years.

The prolonged downturn has Libassi, longtime owner of A&P Aircraft Maintenance, longing for the bustling days of old.

"The problem in aviation right now is the cost of parts, and just the general upkeep of the airplane -- the insurance, the tie-down, storage fees -- are beginning to far exceed the enjoyment level of flying the airplane," he said.

Those rising costs, along with higher fuel prices and the lingering effects of the recession, have walloped general aviation, shrinking the number of civilian pleasure flights out of U.S. airports, industry experts say.

As the economy slowly revs back up, there's optimism about the future of commercial and business travel. But the outlook for general aviation is glum.

Over the next 20 years, general aviation flights are expected to remain significantly below 2000 levels, even though the overall number of aircraft, ranging from small, privately owned planes to sleek corporate jets, is expected to increase slightly, according to a Federal Aviation Administration forecast.

That has some Long Island airports pleading for more business -- or hiking fees to cover costs.

At an airplane owners' meeting in the spring at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale, officials urged their audience to get in the cockpit.

"It's kind of a sad picture," airport manager Shelley LaRose-Arken told the pilots. "We hope you guys are going to get out there and fly a lot more next year."

Fewer flights, planes

Reflecting the national trend, general aviation flights have declined about 40 percent at two of Long Island's biggest airports -- Republic and MacArthur -- since 2004, statistics show.

At Republic, there were about 96,000 landings and takeoffs in 2013 compared to 159,000 in 2004.

On top of a significant drop in commercial flights at MacArthur in Ronkonkoma, general aviation has also shriveled -- from 141,000 flights in 2004 to 86,000 last year.

At Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, which serves a lot of people with Hamptons vacation homes, the number of flights dropped from 90,000 in 2008 to 56,000 in 2011, a 38 percent decline. Since then, Gabreski has seen an uptick of about 13 percent, which airport manager Anthony Ceglio attributes largely to the economic recovery.

Nationwide, general aviation flights decreased about 35 percent between 2000 and 2013 -- a steady decline from 40 million to 26 million, according to the FAA.

During the same period, the number of hours flown by general aviation pilots -- those who fly for fun, as part of flight schools or for business -- dropped 20 percent, from 30 million to 24 million.

Aging pilots a factor

In explaining the decline, local airport managers and industry consultants often cite fuel prices and economic pressures. Another factor, they say, is an aging pilot population.

In 1991, the average age of a private pilot was 42, according to an FAA study. In 2011, it was 48.

Because fewer young men and women are taking up the hobby, the overall number of private pilots in the United States has declined by 29 percent since 2000 -- from 252,000 to 180,000. The ranks are only expected to increase slightly, to 182,000, by 2034, according to the FAA forecast.

"It's a fairly stagnant pool of pilots who are aging, and then the costs just go up every year," said Robert Mann, president of Port Washington-based R.W. Mann & Co., an aviation consulting firm.

Three out of four takeoffs and landings nationwide are made by general aviation planes. The industry segment contributes to flight schools, mechanic shops, agricultural services, charter companies, manufacturers, tourism and more, pumping tens of billions of dollars into the economy, the FAA said.

Mann, the consultant, said general aviation's decline has a ripple effect on the local economy.

"Fixed-base operators pump less fuel, rent fewer hangars, employ fewer people in maintenance and line operations," he said. "These are generally pretty high-paid positions relative to the general market."

When operations at airports dwindle, they start to look empty.

"Nobody likes to see an underutilized facility, since underutilized facilities eventually turn into shopping malls," Mann said. "I look at airplanes on the ramps at some airports around here the same as I look at boats sitting out in the yard -- they rarely move."

At Islip Town-run MacArthur, landing fees were increased in September, based on a plane's weight, to make up for lost revenue and financial woes. For the first time, the town also started charging landing fees for pilots whose aircraft are kept at MacArthur.

Islip officials said the airport expects to generate an additional $1.25 million from the fee increase.

While the new fees often amount to less than $10 per landing, some businesses and pilots complain that the costs keep piling on.

"We pay large amounts of rent to be there to use the land, which is including the use of the runways for our customers, so it's like adding a new fee to our lease," said Louis Mancuso, who runs Mid Island Air Service, which sells, rents and charters planes, and runs a flight school at MacArthur.

Libassi said higher costs are keeping pilots out of his MacArthur shop.

"If they can get another year of landing on their tires, they will ask me," he said. "It was an easier sell years ago to tell somebody . . . 'Why don't you have the two front seats reupholstered?'"

Chris Anderson of Morristown, New Jersey, believes it's time to start actively recruiting new pilots.

"You're going to find a lot of people who say it costs too much, you have to spend too much money, to hell with it," said Anderson, who flies his single-engine Piper Archer for business and pleasure, which includes trips to a Montauk vacation home. "If no one is going to do anything, I think it's going to continue to decline."

- Source:


Senator Francis Thompson: Federal Aviation Administration must allow drones for ag industry

State Sen. Francis Thompson said unmanned aerial vehicles will be a critical tool for farmers in the future, and he wants to make sure the Federal Aviation Administration considers agriculture when it proposes rules for drones in November.

Thompson, D-Delhi, created the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Study Group during the 2014 Legislative Session, and this week the 17-person committee recommended the FAA give wide leeway in the use of drones by farmers.

Among those represented in the group was the LSU AgCenter and the University of Louisiana at Monroe, the only college in the state that has a drone program.

"We are very concerned about the impact these changes will have on the agricultural interests of Louisiana," Thompson said. "Louisiana farmers are just beginning to understand the benefits that (drones) can have on their crops by reducing energy costs, effectively managing nutrients and saving water resources.

"Our agricultural resources and university programs, such as the drone program at ULM, need flexibility to continue to research and discover the many advantages and efficiencies drones can provide for the industry. Our recommendations to the FAA will help to ensure that this happens."

Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor for plant and soil sciences, said current FAA rules "are somewhat outdated and address issues with hobbyist aircraft and, on the other end of the spectrum, commercial piloted aircraft."

"But unmanned aerial systems use in agriculture really does not fit within either of those areas," Leonard said.

So far, the typical drone being developed for agriculture has a wing span of about 3 feet and is equipped with a camera or sensing device to monitor crop fields much faster than a farmer can on foot or in a tractor or truck.

For example, if a farmer can fly a camera over a field to check on the progress of flood irrigation water flow, then he can determine exactly when to turn off the pump. This simple operation could save water resources, reduce energy costs of pumping, and more effectively manage nutrients in the field, Leonard said.

Under current rules, however, if a farmer uses a drone for this purpose, he would be in violation of recent interpretations of the law because he does not have the right to use a UAS commercially above his fields, even if the fields are all his private property.

"All states are facing the same issues as Louisiana," Leonard said. "We want farmers to be able to use UAS to help make their crop production more efficient," Leonard said. "We believe that a category of UAS guidelines for agriculture can be developed that protect privacy and ensure safety but are different from those current rules for hobbyists and commercial aircraft."

The FAA is in the process of gathering public comments from across the country, but the earliest any change in policy will be made may be more than a year away, Leonard said.

Paul Karlowitz, the professor leading ULM's drone program, pointed to a study commissioned last year for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International that forecast the total economic impact of drone integration in the U.S. from 2015-17 to be $13.7 billion with more than 70,000 jobs created.

The same study forecast a total economic impact in Louisiana of $213 million during the same time with more than 1,000 jobs created.

"We can't guarantee students a job, but we believe there won't be enough people with the necessary education and skills to meet the new industry's demand," Karlowitz said.

- Source:

Police investigate UFO spotted over Breckenridge, Summit County, Colorado (with video)

SUMMIT COUNTY - Breckenridge Police say they are investigating reports of three "shiny" objects in the sky Friday morning.

"NORAD is not tracking any anomalies in that location. We are investigating," said Army Major Beth Smith, NORAD spokesperson.

Multiple people have called in to report the objects floating in the sky. The Summit County Sheriff's Office is also investigating.

Police have called the FAA. The FAA says they have not had any calls from the public regarding the sighting.

Witnesses say the objects would sometimes form triangles or straight lines across the horizon.

9NEWS reporter Matt Renoux said he doesn't believe the objects were drones or weather balloons, because the objects appeared stationary for as long as 15 minutes at times.

"They would just sit there... without moving an inch on our viewscreen in the camera," Renoux said during a 5 p.m. live report.

After about 15 minutes, a flash of light would appear and the "objects would take off across the mountain ridge," Renoux said.

A Utah television station reported Thursday about a similar incident happening in the Salt Lake City area.

Story, photo and video:

Robinson R66, Robinson Helicopter Co., N646AG: Fatal accident occurred July 27, 2013 in Noxen, Pennsylvania

National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Final Report: 

Docket And Docket Items - National Transportation Safety Board:

National Transportation Safety Board  -  Aviation Accident Data Summary:

NTSB Identification: ERA13FA336
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, July 27, 2013 in Noxen, PA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/06/2014
Aircraft: ROBINSON R66, registration: N646AG
Injuries: 5 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The flight departed under visual flight rules (VFR) and then obtained VFR flight following before proceeding in a southeasterly direction. About 28 minutes after takeoff, while flying about 3,000 feet mean sea level over a sparsely populated and heavily wooded area with few ground reference lights, the flight likely encountered light rain. The pilot flew south of a wind turbine, initiated an approximate 180-degree left turn with 300 feet altitude loss, then began following a dirt road associated with the wind turbines. After completion of the turn he advised the controller, "...we're inadvertent IMC [instrument meteorological conditions], reversing..." and asked for a heading to the nearest airport. The controller asked the pilot if he wanted a vector to the nearest airport and also if the flight was in IMC, but there was no reply. The controller provided a heading for a vector to a nearby airport but the pilot did not respond. The flight continued in the same orientation following the course reversal, flying past another wind turbine before turning right; the controller again advised the pilot of the direction to the nearest airport. The pilot immediately responded that he was, "...having trouble maintaining control here." The controller informed the pilot that the nearest airport was heading 068 degrees and 8 miles away, and the recorded radar data indicates the pilot flew a north-northeasterly heading with changes in altitude noted. The comments from the pilot followed by the maneuvering (changes in altitude and heading) were consistent with the known effects of spatial disorientation. Radio and radar contact were lost; the helicopter descended on an east-northeasterly heading into trees and terrain in a heavily wooded area away from any nearby wind turbines.

Postaccident examination of the helicopter revealed extensive impact damage, although there was no evidence of a preimpact failure with the flight controls, drive line, or structure. The engine was found to operate normally and data downloaded from the engine monitoring unit indicates no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction.

While there was no record of an official preflight weather briefing before departure, a text message from the non-instrument rated pilot to his brother approximately 1 hour before departure stating, "...Waiting out weather to fly back to [Ocean City, MD] tonight" indicates that to some extent he was aware of the weather. Had the pilot obtained an official preflight weather briefing for the intended VFR flight, the briefing specialist likely would have advised him against VFR flight due to IMC (ceiling less than 1,000 feet and visibility less than 3 miles) and mountain obscuration that were forecast to exist in the accident area.

Although the left seat occupant was a student pilot, it is unlikely the pilot-in-command was giving him instruction during the accident flight. While operation of a helicopter with decreased ceiling and visibility can be safely performed, the environmental conditions in the accident site area consisting of a sparsely populated heavily wooded area with few ground reference lights and no illumination from the moon were indicators that VFR flight should not have continued.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot's decision to continue VFR flight into night instrument meteorological conditions, which resulted in spatial disorientation and a loss of control.


On July 27, 2013, about 2220 eastern daylight time, a Robinson Helicopter Company R66 helicopter N646AG, operated by a private individual, collided with trees and terrain near Noxen, Pennsylvania. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed in the area at the time and no flight plan was filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight from Tri-Cities Airport (CZG), Endicott, New York, to Jake Arner Memorial Airport (22N), Lehighton, Pennsylvania. The helicopter was destroyed and the commercial-rated pilot and 4 passengers were fatally injured. The flight originated from CZG about 2151.

The flight departed VFR, and at 2153, the non-instrument rated pilot contacted Binghamton Approach Control and advised the controller that the flight had just departed CZG, and was requesting visual flight rules (VFR) flight following. The controller provided the altimeter setting (30.00 inches of Mercury) and asked the pilot the destination and requested altitude, to which he replied 22N, and 3,000 feet msl.

A discrete transponder code was assigned (4606), and the flight was radar identified 3 miles southwest of CZG. The flight proceeded in a southwesterly direction flying about 3,000 feet until about 2157, then turned to a south-southeasterly heading while flying between 2,600 and 3,000 feet msl.

At 2204, air traffic control communications were transferred to Wilkes-Barre Approach Control; the pilot established contact with that facility advising the controller that the flight was level at 3,000 feet msl. The Wilkes-Barre Approach controller acknowledged the transmission, and issued an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches of Mercury. While in contact with that facility the flight proceeded in a southeasterly direction with altitude and slight heading changes until about 2219, at which time recorded radar reflects a left turn to a northwesterly direction. Correlation of the radar targets from recordings of the Wilkes-Barre airport surveillance radar with locations of wind turbines in the area revealed that between 2218:55, and 2219:00, the helicopter flew west of the B-26 wind turbine, and continued in a southeasterly direction, then when turning to a northwesterly direction about 2219:19, the pilot flew just south of the B-21 wind turbine. The radar targets depict the flight path above and adjacent to a road associated with the wind turbines while turning to a northwesterly direction; no determination could be made whether the pilot had visual contact with the road. At 2219:40, while just east of the B-16 wind turbine, the pilot advised the controller, "we're inadvertent IMC, reversing ah, can you give us a heading to the nearest airport, please."

The controller asked the pilot if he wanted a heading to the nearest airport and if the flight was in IFR conditions but the pilot did not respond to that transmission. The radar data reflects that the helicopter continued in a northwesterly direction until 2219:53. About 6 seconds later, the controller instructed the pilot to fly heading 068 degrees for vectors to an airport, to which he replied 5 seconds later "6 alpha golf having trouble maintaining control here." The helicopter at that time was located about 1,105 feet east-southeast of the previous radar target 10 seconds earlier, and had descended from 2,800 to 2,600 feet msl.

The radar data from Wilkes-Barre Approach reflects that between 2220:03 and 2220:17, the flight proceeded in a northeasterly heading with some altitude deviation noted. The controller then asked the pilot, "helicopter 6AG ah you having trouble maintaining altitude sir", to which the pilot immediately replied, "Affirmative 6AG." The radar data reflected that between 2220:17, and 2220:27, the helicopter descended from 2,600 to 2,300 feet, though the coordinates remained unchanged. Radio and radar contact were lost. The pilot of a nearby airline flight attempted to communicate with the pilot at 2221, but there was no reply.

The helicopter crashed on privately owned wooded land leased to an energy company; there were no known witnesses to the accident that occurred during a dark night.

A 406 MHz emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal was received at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) at 2224, and the Pennsylvania State Police and State Emergency Operations Center were notified. A search was initiated, but adverse weather (heavy fog) caused the search to be called off in the early morning hours. The search resumed several hours later when the weather conditions improved; the wreckage was located on July 28, 2013, about 1350.


The pilot seated in the right seat, age 30, held a commercial pilot certificate with rotorcraft helicopter rating issued January 19, 2012. He also held a certified flight instructor certificate with rotorcraft helicopter rating issued February 25, 2012. He was issued a first class medical certificate with no limitations on April 30, 2012. On the application for his last medical certificate he listed a total time of 350 hours.

His 2nd pilot logbook contained entries from the first dated February 12, 2013, to the last dated July 21, 2013. He carried forward a total flight time of 952 hours, 14.5 hours simulated instrument time, and 6.0 hours turbine powered rotorcraft helicopter, though the make and model helicopter was not specified. Including his carry forward time he logged a total time of approximately 1,328 hours, of which 1,274 hours were as pilot-in-command. He did not log any simulated or actual instrument flight time in the 2nd pilot logbook. Excluding the unlogged flights after July 21, 2013, he logged a total of approximately 92 hours night flight time, of which approximately 5 hours were in the previous 90 days, and 0.3 hour, or 18 minutes was logged in the previous 30 days. The last logged night flight occurred on July 16, 2013, and was flown in a Robinson R22.

Further review of his 2nd logbook revealed an entry dated July 19, 2013 indicating his attendance of a R66 helicopter pilot safety course at the manufacturer's facility. A total of approximately 1 hour was logged in the R66 helicopter.

Documents provided by Robinson Helicopter Company associated with the pilot/flight instructor safety course revealed that on the application dated June 28, 2013, he listed in part having accrued 1,306 hours total helicopter hours, and 6 hours in R66 helicopters. Ground training was conducted July 15 through July 18, 2013, and on July 19, 2013, an approximately 1.0 hour flight was conducted in an R66 helicopter. On the "Instructor/Pilot Evaluation" form for training conducted in the R66, the instructor indicated his proficiency was above average in "Knowledge" with a comment indicating, "Well studied on systems." He was marked average for the remainder of the maneuvers, and a comment in the General Comments section indicated, "Flew well – no problems noted. Taking delivery of R-66 today." In addition, he was approved to transition other pilot's in Robinson R66 helicopters.

Following completion of the pilot/flight instructor safety course at the manufacturer's facility, he and another pilot flew the helicopter during the course of several flights over a 3 day period from California to Hampton Roads Executive Airport (PVG), Norfolk, Virginia. While the pilot logged the time (approximately 19.6 hours) as dual received and pilot-in-command, the other individual who flew with him and who is a certified flight instructor reported flying the helicopter 7.4 hours. He also indicated he did not give the accident pilot any flight instruction during any of the flights, and further, he did not sign his pilot logbook indicating he had given him flight instruction. The individual who flew with the accident pilot reported there were no discrepancies with the helicopter, and all systems worked OK with no squawks noted. After an uneventful arrival in Virginia at PVG, the other pilot departed, and the accident pilot flew the helicopter to Ocean City Municipal Airport (OXB), Ocean City, Maryland; the flight duration was logged to be approximately 1 hour, and there were no further logged flights in the accident helicopter.

Data downloaded from the Engine Monitoring Unit (EMU) correlated with unlogged flights in the pilot's pilot logbook revealed he accrued approximately 7 hours, bringing his total time to 1,335 hours. On the accident date including the accident flight, the helicopter was operated on 6 flights totaling approximately 6 hours.

The occupant seated in the left front seat was issued a student pilot medical certificate on February 19, 2013, with a restriction to wear corrective lenses. On the application for the medical certificate he listed 10 hours flight time.


The helicopter was manufactured by Robinson Helicopter Company in 2013, under a production certificate issued on October 25, 2010, and designated serial number 0409. It was equipped with a Rolls-Royce 250-C300/A1 engine rated for 270 horsepower for takeoff limited to 5 minutes or 224 horsepower continuous. The helicopter was equipped with 5 seats.

The helicopter was approved for VFR operations day and night. VFR operation at night is permitted only when landing, navigation, instrument, and anti-collision lights are operational. Section 2 of the Pilot's Operating Handbook and FAA Approved Rotorcraft Flight Manual indicates that in "Kinds of Operating Limitations" that orientation during night flight must be maintained by visual reference to ground objects illuminated solely by lights on the ground or adequate celestial illumination.

Review of the airframe and engine logbooks revealed no entries other than those associated with production of the airframe or engine.

According to the hour meter, the elapsed time since manufacture at the time of the accident was 33.08 hours, while the engine monitoring unit indicates a total engine run time of approximately 28 hours, and 18 engine starts.


There was no record with Lockheed Martin AFSS, or either DUAT vendor (CSC or DTC) that the pilot obtained a preflight weather briefing before departure.

Airmet Sierra Update 6, for IFR conditions issued by National Weather Service (NWS) at 1645, and valid until 2300, bordered the immediate vicinity of the accident site. The Airmet indicated that between 2000 and 2300, and continuing beyond 2300 to 0500 the next day, ceilings below 1,000 feet and visibilities below 3 miles with precipitation and mist were forecast. The Airmet for mountain obscuration, which extended over the route and the accident site, indicated that between 1700 and 2000, and continuing beyond 2300 to 0500 the next day, clouds, precipitation, and mist were forecast.

The NWS Weather Depiction Chart for 1800 EDT depicted an area of instrument flight rule (IFR) conditions over eastern Pennsylvania by a shaded contour line due to visibility 2 miles in thunderstorms and moderate rain, which was surrounding by an area of marginal visual flight rule (MVFR) conditions by an unshaded contour line. Multiple stations across western Pennsylvania and New York reported rain and thunderstorms with MVFR conditions.

A surface observation taken from Binghamton Regional Airport (BGM), Binghamton, NY, at 2142, or approximately 9 minutes before the flight departed indicates the wind was from 190 degrees at 8 knots, the visibility was 2.5 miles with moderate rain and mist, broken clouds existed at 600 feet and 1,400 feet, and overcast clouds existed at 7,000 feet. The temperature and dew point were 19 and 18 degrees Celsius, respectively, and the altimeter setting was 29.99 inches of Mercury (inHg).

At 2045, or approximately 1 hour 6 minutes before the flight departed, the Area Forecast (FA) issued by the National Weather Service Aviation Weather Center indicated that for eastern Pennsylvania, expected broken clouds at 3,500 feet layered to 25,000 feet, with widely scattered thunderstorms and light rain, with cumulonimbus tops to 38,000 feet.

At 2054, or approximately 1 hour before the flight departed, the pilot sent a text message to his brother indicating, "…Waiting out weather to fly back to [Ocean City, MD] tonight." At the same time, a surface observation from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (AVP), Scranton, PA, located approximately 18 miles east-southeast of the accident site reported wind from 220 degrees at 4 knots, 10 miles visibility with light rain, scattered clouds at 7,000 feet, broken clouds at 8,000 feet, and overcast clouds at 10,000 feet. The temperature and dew point were 22 and 18 degrees Celsius, respectively, and the altimeter setting was 30.00 in Hg.

At 2100, or approximately 51 minutes before the flight departed, the Weather Depiction Chart depicted a larger area of MVFR conditions extending over across western and central New York and northern Pennsylvania along and ahead of the approaching frontal system. The accident site was located in the area of MVFR conditions. Visual flight rule (VFR) conditions were depicted across southern Pennsylvania into Maryland, with the station models depicted overcast sky coverage.

The GOES-13 infrared satellite imagery for 2202 and 2232 EDT respectively with a standard MB temperature enhance curve applied to highlight the higher and colder cloud tops typically associated with convective activity. The images depict an extensive area of low clouds over the region with a north-to-south band of enhanced clouds moving over the route of flight at the time of the accident, with the radiative cloud top temperatures corresponding to cloud tops between 29,000 and 33,500 feet.

The closest Weather Surveillance Radar-1988, Doppler (WSR-88D) to the accident site was from the NWS Binghamton (KBGM) located approximately 46 miles north of the accident site, at an elevation of 1,606 feet. Based on the radar height calculations, the 0.5 degree elevation scan depicted the conditions encompassing the altitude between 3,230 and 7,860 feet over the accident site, with the floor just above the helicopters altitude. The KBGM 0.5 degree base reflectivity image at 2220 EDT depicts the accident site area with light reflectivity values of 15 to 20 dBZ, and several high reflectivity echoes on the range of 50 dBZ east of the general route of flight associated with embedded thunderstorms with one of the cells immediately north of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (AVP), which was reporting IFR conditions in heavy rain at the time.

A remote automated weather station RAWS located about 24 miles northwest of the accident site reported at 2201, or approximately 19 minutes before the accident, that the wind was calm, the temperature and dew point were 67 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, and the relative humidity was 95 percent.

A surface observation taken from AVP at 2221, or approximately 1 minute after the accident indicates the wind was variable at 4 knots, the visibility was 1.25 miles with heavy rain and mist, runway 04 visual range (RVR) 4,000 variable 6,000 feet, a few clouds at 600 feet, broken clouds at 1200 feet, and overcast clouds at 4,900 feet. The temperature and dew point were 19 and 18 degrees Celsius, respectively, and the altimeter setting was 30.00 inHg.

A RAWS located approximately 15 miles north-northeast of the accident site reported at 2229, or approximately 9 minutes after the accident, that the wind was calm, the temperature and dew point were 66 and 62 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, the relative humidity was 88 percent, and rain was being recorded at the time of the observation.

Based on the approximate location of the accident, sunset occurred at 2025, and the end of civil twilight occurred at 2056. The Sun and the Moon were more than 15 degrees below the horizon and provided no illumination.


The helicopter was equipped with an Engine Monitoring Unit (EMU) that is a digital recording device mounted behind the right rear seatback panel. The EMU records and retains data consisting of total engine run time, an engine start counter (whenever N1 exceeds 30 percent and Measured Gas Temperature (MGT) is at least 343 degrees Celsius), and exceedances for N1, N1 run limit, N2 transient, N2 run limit, Torque Meter Oil Pressure (TMOP) transient, TMOP exceedance, TMOP run limit, MGT transient start- up mode, MGT start-up mode, MGT run limit start up, MGT transient run mode, MGT run mode, MGT run limit run mode, and torque. The EMU also records and retains data consisting of flight history (date, engine start time and duration), and in 1 second increments N1 and N2 speeds in percent, TMOP psi, and MGT in Fahrenheit.

Data downloaded from the revealed that the accident flight and 17 previous flights were recorded; 1 entry totaling 4 seconds on July 19, 2013 was noted but was not attributed to a flight. There were no recorded exceedances for any of the flights. Data associated with the accident flight totaled approximately 37 minutes 35 seconds; an approximate 14 second gap of data was noted between 0222:32 and 0222:46 Universal Coordinated Time (UTC), or between 2222:32 and 2222:46 local EMU time.

Review of the recorded data associated with the accident flight revealed that slight variation to N2 below 100 percent was noted for about 6 minutes 49 seconds after the first recorded data point, or until 0152:00.500 (2152:00.500 local), at which time the N2 (equivalent to main rotor speed), and TMOP were recorded to be consistently above 100 percent and 50 psi, respectively. The recorded N2 readings were nearly constant with slight changes for the next 29 minutes 17 seconds, or until 0221:17.312 (2221:17.312), while the TMOP readings were nearly constant with slight changes notes between 0152:00.500 (2152:00.500 local) and 0220:40.312 (2220:40.312), at which time the TMOP began to decrease. Changes to recorded TMOP occurred from then until 0222:46.937 (2222:46.937 hours local), which was the last recorded data point. A copy of the recorded data associated with the accident flight downloaded from the EMU is contained in the NTSB public docket.


The helicopter crashed in a heavy wooded area owned by several family members, who leased the land to an energy company which installed 88 wind turbines. According to the site manager, on the date and time of the accident, the wind turbines were down for maintenance and Notice to Airman # 07/025 was disseminated indicating the wind turbines were not illuminated. The site manager also advised that there was no damage to any of the wind turbines, and they do not have any cameras or recording equipment on them.

Examination of the accident site revealed damage to trees at decreasing heights and debris along an energy path oriented on a magnetic heading of 074 degrees. Major parts of the helicopter consisting of the main rotor assembly, mast, transmission, tail rotor assembly, and horizontal and vertical stabilizers were separated from the helicopter and located along the energy path southwest of the resting portion of the main wreckage. Numerous cockpit and cabin furnishings as well as cockpit and cabin doors, landing gear pieces, and personal effects were also located along the energy path. There was no smell of fuel at the accident site, and no evidence of fire. The accident site was not located near any wind turbines.

Further inspection of the accident site revealed the farthest identified impacted trees were located at 41.4546 degrees North latitude and 076.0926 degrees West longitude. The trees were nearly aligned and perpendicular to the energy path and were about 16 feet apart. When viewed from that location towards the resting point of the main wreckage, the tree to the left was damaged at an estimated height of 55 feet above ground level (agl), while the tree to the right was damaged 45.12 feet agl (measured using Theodolite App). A distance of 59.05 feet existed between the estimated impact point in the creek bed and the tree that was fractured 45.12 feet agl, while the calculated angle between the two points was 27.5 degrees.

The main portion of the wreckage consisting of the fuselage was inverted near the base of 2 trees adjacent to a creek; the wreckage was located at 41.4547 degrees North latitude and 076.0923 degrees West longitude. It came to rest on a magnetic heading of 040 degrees magnetic. The fuel tank was drained following recovery of the wreckage and found to contain 54 gallons of jet fuel; no contaminants were noted. A small amount of a liquid with the appearance and odor of Jet A fuel was drained from the fuel line to the fuel pump when the line was detached from the fuel pump. No breaches of the fuel system were noted, and there was no evidence of fuel spillage on the ground.

The airframe was almost completely destroyed. The main rotor and gearbox were detached from the airframe, with the mast fairing remaining attached to the mast tube. The mast fairing exhibited a large dent on the trailing edge, which corresponded to the bent mast tube and main rotor mast. The rear fuselage was intact and the rear cowling was attached. The tailcone was bent and wrapped around the left side of the airframe. The tailcone was separated in the approximate center of the 5th bay. The remaining 2 ½ bays were intact, but detached from the empennage. There was a large dent on the upper surface of the aft 2 bays. The empennage was intact. The lower vertical stabilizer was bent approximately 90 degrees rearward, and there was a circular shaped dent at the intersection between the lower vertical and horizontal stabilizers. The dent contained wood debris and bark scrapings. The tail rotor visual guard was fractured at the front of the lower vertical stabilizer. The forward end remained attached to the tailcone and the aft portion was attached to the lower vertical stabilizer.

Inspection of the flight controls revealed numerous fractures; however, there was no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction. Inspection of the driveline revealed no evidence of preimpact failure or malfunction.

Examination of the firewall revealed it was deformed in several places and rotational scoring from the engine output shaft at the firewall penetration point was noted. The fuel cut-off valve was in a forward, or off position, and the control cable was detached from the control arm. The control cable sheath was secure in the retention clamps. The cable end was not visible protruding from the end of the sheath, and the sheath exhibited stretching and separation of the coils between the engine and the control in the cabin.

The cockpit was fragmented, and flight and engine instruments were located along the energy path. Additionally, the instrument panel was separated. All of the removable controls were installed. The collective was in a full up position, and the friction slider was straight and was fractured at the lower end. The pilot's throttle twist grip was in the "on" or "flight position."

Inspection of the separated instrument panel revealed it contained the airspeed indicator, faceplate of the turn coordinator, and directional gyro. The housing of the turn coordinator was separated from the panel, and was accounted for at the accident site. The annunciator panel contains LED type lights; therefore, no determination could be made as to whether there were any annunciations at the time of the accident.

Inspection of the engine and engine compartment revealed the throttle valve on the engine right side was in a rearward, or 'flight' position, and the control cable was detached from the control arm. The control cable sheath was secure in the retention clamps. The cable end was not visible protruding from the end of the sheath, and the sheath exhibited stretching and separation of the coils between the engine and the control in the cabin. The power turbine governor (PTG) needle was in a position between 30 and 40, and the control cable and linkage was intact and secure. The PTG 'beep' control actuator when tested by hand. The F642-1 shaft was separated at the flex couplings at both ends. At the engine end, 1 flexplate ear was torn and one F906-1 yoke arm was torn. At the main rotor gearbox (MRGB) end, assembly was intact and in place. The sprag clutch unit locked and free-wheeled normally the flexplate arms were torn on opposite sides, and one MRGB input yoke arm was separated from both the flexplate and the input "shaft".

Main rotor blade SN 0950 exhibited a fractured spar was broken at approximately 6 feet from the coning bolt, and the tip of the blade was detached, but accounted for at the accident site. The blade skin/honeycomb was damaged at tip. There was a gentle upward bend over the inboard 6 feet of the blade, and again for the outboard 4 feet of blade. Wood was embedded in the spar of the blade at the tip. Some minor dents and one tear were visible on the lower skin. 2 small pieces of the removable tip cap were located. The spindle tusk was intact.

Main rotor blade SN 0954 "exhibited a 90 degree downward bend approximately 90 inches from coning bolt, with a partial spar fracture, and spar separated at 160 inches from coning bolt. Skin/honeycomb portion detached from spar at separation, and was not located. The outboard approximate 36 inches of main rotor blade was later accounted for; the spindle tusk was intact. A report concerning the separated outboard section of main rotor blade is contained in the NTSB public docket.

Examination of the engine revealed it exhibited little visible damage. The output shaft/sprag clutch assembly exhibited significant damage. The engine which was secure in its mount points was removed, and sent to the manufacturer's facility, where with FAA oversight, it was placed in a test cell and found to operate normally. The report from the manufacturer and statement from the FAA inspector that witnessed the engine run are contained in the NTSB public docket.


Postmortem examinations of the pilot and left seat occupant were performed by Forensic Associates of NEPA, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. The cause of death for both was listed as multiple traumatic injuries.

External examinations only were performed on the remaining occupants. The cause of death for all was listed as multiple traumatic injuries.

Forensic toxicology was performed on specimens of the pilot and left seat occupant by the FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The toxicology report for the pilot stated the results were negative for carbon monoxide, volatiles, and tested drugs, while testing for cyanide was not performed.

The toxicology report for the left seat occupant stated the results were negative for volatiles and tested drugs, while the specimens were unsuitable for carbon monoxide testing; testing for cyanide was not performed.


The first uncorrelated radar target at 2151:34, was located at 42 degrees 04 seconds 23.88 seconds North latitude and 076 degrees 06 minutes 23.40 seconds West longitude, or about 0.42 nautical miles from the center of a ramp at the departure airport. Review of the EMU recorded data revealed the estimated takeoff was at EMU time 0152:00.500 (2152:00.500). No determination could be made as to how the helicopter proceeded between the EMU time estimated at takeoff and the first uncorrelated radar target.

Correlation of the EMU data with the transmissions from the pilot and the radar data indicates that the changes to the TMOP from the near steady state condition after takeoff occurred about 4 seconds after the pilot advised the controller that the flight was inadvertent IMC, which also was at a point when changes in heading and altitude were noted.


Weight and Balance Data

At the time of manufacture, the basic empty weight was 1,346.2 pounds and the empty weight moment was 146392. No modifications were recorded in the maintenance records between the time of manufacture and the accident flight.

Baggage and personal effects that were found either in bags in the baggage compartment, on the ground adjacent to the main wreckage, or loose at the accident site were recovered and secured at a facility of the Pennsylvania State Police. The items that were wet were air dried, and the weight of all items was determined to be 159.5 pounds.

Weight and balance calculations were performed using the empty weight of the helicopter (1,346.2 pounds), the weight of the pilot and left front seat occupant per the Coroner (140 and 170 pounds), respectively. The weights of the rear seat occupants from left to right also reported by the coroner were 127, 33, and 190 pounds, respectively. Additionally, the calculations included the weight of the luggage (159.5 pounds), and full usable fuel amount of 493.1 pounds. The calculations determined that at the moment of engine start, the gross weight was 2,658.8 pounds.

According to the helicopter type certificate data sheet, the design gross weight is 2,700 pounds.

Spatial Disorientation

According to Advisory Circular (AC) 60-4A titled, "Pilot's Spatial Disorientation," surface references and the natural horizon may become obscured even though visibility may be above VFR minimums and that an inability to perceive the natural horizon or surface references is common during flights over water, at night, in sparsely populated areas, and in low-visibility conditions.

Story Highlights
  • At least 533 aviation accidents from 1983 and 2013 are linked to pilots lacking proper credentials
  • About 84 percent of those general aviation accidents resulted in deaths
  • n the last 30 years, 955 have died in these crashes.
  • More than half of the accidents involved multiple fatalities

About an hour before departing from Endicott's Tri Cities Airport (KCZG)  last year, a 30-year-old helicopter pilot sent a text message to his brother.

"Finished NY gig," pilot David Jenny wrote. "Waiting out weather to fly back to ocean city md tonight."

Although the weather never completely cleared, the helicopter took off anyway.

Jenny and his four passengers, including a 3-year-old boy, never made it to their destination.

Nearly 200 pages of records released by the National Transportation Safety Board in late September, detailing its yearlong investigation into why the Robinson R66 helicopter descended into a dense Pennsylvania forest last July 27, show the crash fits squarely into a deadly pattern.

Jenny did not hold an instrument rating — a qualification required to fly using just an aircraft's navigation instruments — yet flew into weather conditions where he could not rely on visual flight cues to navigate the aircraft.

A Press & Sun-Bulletin analysis of National Transportation Safety Board records shows the same scenario plays out in the nation's skies dozens of times each year.

NTSB investigators have tied at least 533 general aviation accidents between 1983 and 2013 — resulting in 955 deaths — to pilots who lacked the proper credentials to fly when conditions required instrument navigation.

About 84 percent of those accidents were fatal — far greater than the rate for all general aviation accidents — and more than half involved multiple fatalities.

"It's a problem which continuously plagues the general aviation community," said Douglas D. Boyd, a University of Texas professor who studies fatal general aviation accidents. "It's a big killer."

The unqualified flights cost uncounted millions of dollars in property damage and expenses for emergency responses and investigations, in addition to dozens of pilot and passenger lives.

Although federal regulations mandate non-instrument rated pilots stay grounded in inclement weather, experts and officials say it is virtually impossible to keep pilots from violating them.

'Trouble maintaining altitude'

After a round of flights in Pennsylvania, records show, the five-seat helicopter piloted by Jenny landed at the Tri Cities Airport, a small airstrip in Endicott on the evening of July 27, 2013.

At 9:51 p.m. — 59 minutes after Jenny sent his brother the text message about the weather — the aircraft took off. It carried passengers Carl Robert Woodland, 29, of Lovettsville, Va.; his son, Noah Robert McKain Woodland, 3, of Leesburg, Va.; Bernard Michael Kelly, 58, of Ellicott City, Md.; and his daughter, Leanna Mee Kelly, 27, of Savage, Md.

Jenny contacted air traffic control at the Greater Binghamton Airport to request they monitor his flight under "visual flight rules" meaning he would be flying based on visual indicators.

The NTSB investigation found there is no record that Jenny obtained a pre-flight weather briefing prior to takeoff. Investigation records show there was very little moonlight on the evening of the flight.

At 10:19 p.m., Jenny contacted air traffic control at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport to let them know he had encountered weather that would require instrumentation to navigate.

"We're inadvertent IMC reversing ahh can you give us a heading to the nearest airport please," Jenny told controllers, according to a transcript of radio transmissions included in the NTSB's investigation documents.

Air traffic controllers began giving Jenny directions to Skyhaven Airport in Tunkhannock, Pa.

But just 24 seconds after the original transmission, Jenny indicated he was having trouble keeping the helicopter stable. "Having trouble maintaining control here," he said.

The last response from Jenny came after air traffic controllers asked if he was having trouble maintaining altitude.

"That's affirmative," Jenny replied at 10:20 p.m. Shortly after, controllers lost contact with the helicopter.

A search for the aircraft the next day was hindered by dense fog in the privately-owned wooded area in Wyoming County, Pa. where the helicopter was believed to have crashed.

According to documents released from the NTSB investigation late last month, the helicopter's rotor blades left chop marks on trees and left a 150-yard path of debris behind as it plunged into the forest below.

The impact destroyed the helicopter's airframe, scattering pieces of the fiberglass canopy and windows through the Pennsylvania woodland and detaching four of the five seat bottoms from their bases.

All five occupants died from multiple traumatic injuries. There were no known witnesses to the accident.

Broader pattern

The problem of inadequately credentialed pilots flying in inclement weather dates back to the early days of small aircraft flight.

On Feb. 3 1959, a Beechcraft Bonanza 35 carrying musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson crashed in an Iowa cornfield shortly after taking off.

Investigators later found that the pilot, Roger Peterson, was not qualified to fly in instrument flight rules, yet took off in poor weather anyway.

Even as hundreds of deaths mounted in the decades that followed, government officials have not found a solution to the problem.

In addition to last year's crash, among the Southern Tier-based accidents fitting the pattern is the 2007 crash of a Cessna 150L airplane in Steuben County on its way from Jamestown to Ithaca. The non-instrument rated pilot reportedly told others he was taking off in order to avoid a rainstorm, but ended up encountering it in the skies.

"If I leave now, I can beat it," the pilot, who flew alone and suffered fatal injuries, reportedly told a mechanic before takeoff.

The issue is specific to "general aviation" — private flights that are distinct from and far more loosely regulated than commercial airline flights and charter operations.

David Ison, assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., said Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibiting general aviation pilots from flying in conditions when they're not qualified are difficult to enforce.

If questioned, he said, a pilot could tell officials there was adequate visibility at the time or adequate pilot clearance.

"I think it's pretty rare for somebody to be reprimanded by the FAA under those circumstances," Ison said. "Normally, the only time that they would probably get involved is if something happened."

Federal officials do not know how often they take enforcement action against a non-instrument rated pilot who flies in instrument meteorological conditions, FAA spokesman Jim Peters said.

"The FAA does not track enforcement actions by type of violations," he said in a written response to questions for this report.

Research conducted by Ison has found that, unlike the Endicott-based crash, there is evidence aviators in the vast majority of weather-related crashes involving non-instrument rated pilots do check the meteorological conditions before departing.

Yet the crashes continue.

Obtaining an instrument rating requires at least 50 hours of cross-country flight experience in addition to passing a written exam, and can cost pilots thousands of dollars.

Steve Hedges, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the nation's largest general aviation organization, said the group has done extensive work to educate pilots about the dangers of flying in instrument conditions if they have not received proper training and an instrument rating.

But the organization does not favor any type of regulatory changes to try to crack down on instances where unqualified pilots take to the skies. Federal aviation regulations are explicit, he said, in prohibiting pilots without an instrument rating from flying into unclear skies.

"That's made very clear when you go through your pilot training," Hedges said.

Boyd, of the University of Texas, said pilots are generally averse to any regulatory action that would cut down on their rights to take to the skies when and where they please.

"The pilots don't want things to infringe their rights if you have a very small subset who do stupid things," he said.

Experts point to research that has found these accidents are attributable to human nature more than anything else.

The ill-fated flights often occur when pilots of small airplanes overestimate their own abilities, Boyd said, or fail to adequately assess the weather — two variables that are difficult for anyone but the pilot to control.

"These are very unfortunate," he said. "But, you know, it's happened before. And it'll happen again."


• An average of 31 general aviation pilots and passengers die each year when pilots fly in weather conditions that are beyond their qualifications. In the last 30 years, 955 have died in these crashes.

• Experts say rules prohibiting flights by unqualified general aviation pilots are virtually impossible to enforce.

• The Federal Aviation Administration does not keep track of how often — if at all — it takes enforcement actions against unqualified pilots who take a chance and fly.

The human toll

533. The number of general aviation accidents between 1983 and 2013 where pilots lacked the proper credentials venturing into skies where conditions require instrument navigation.

84%. The percentage of those those general aviation accidents where people died. More than half of the involved multiple fatalities.

955. The number of deaths related to accidents during the last 30 years in the U.S.

31. The average annual U.S. death toll of general aviation pilots and passengers in accidents where unqualified pilots fly in conditions requiring instrument navigation.