Fly­ing with no li­cense: How does it hap­pen?

Pi­lots say no reg­u­lar checks are made, call for more reg­u­la­tion.

The Palm Beach Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Alexandra Seltzer Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

A week af­ter his death, Philip Cas­tronova’s fam­ily and friends are still stunned that the 70-yearold pi­lot did not have an ac­tive li­cense to fly an air­craft. Even more, res­i­dents liv­ing in the vicin­ity of the air­port emailed lo­cal of­fi­cials in­di­cat­ing they couldn’t be­lieve Cas­tronova hadn’t been caught.

But pi­lots — both lo­cal and afar — aren’t sur­prised.

No one is reg­u­larly check­ing, they say.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion has two ways of know­ing whether a pi­lot in the cock­pit has an ac­tive li­cense and the re­quired med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate — or not. One is if some­one alerts the agency. The other is if the FAA hap­pens upon that pi­lot at the air­port dur­ing a ramp check — the ran­dom checks the FAA con­ducts that check pi­lots’ doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing li­censes.

The FAA said it is the pi­lot’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to main­tain his

or her li­cense and med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate.

“The FAA would not be able to no­tify ev­ery pi­lot when they needed to up­date their li­cense and med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate,” a spokes­woman said, adding that in 2017 there were 609,306 reg­is­tered pi­lots in the coun­try.

That po­si­tion was echoed by area pi­lots this week.

“When I go to take off no one in the con­trol tower ever asks, ‘What’s your name, what’s your li­cense num­ber?’ ” said pi­lot Art Kamm who lives in Deer­field Beach. “I can take off from any air­port and not even tell them where I’m go­ing.”

Pi­lot Michael Col­le­gio, a for­mer owner of a flight school at Palm Beach County Park Air­port in Lan­tana, added: “It’s not their job.”

Kamm said fly­ing abroad is dif­fer­ent. Pi­lots have to go through cus­toms and are asked to hand over their li­cense, med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate and regis­tra­tion, he said.

But fly­ing do­mes­ti­cally from air­port to air­port in the coun­try, Kamm said, is “a lit­tle dan­ger­ous. Any­body could take an air­plane up into the skies and use it as a weapon.”

Kamm and fel­low pi­lots con­tacted for this story said they see a need for more se­cu­rity and reg­u­la­tion of li­censes. But the specifics and lo­gis­tics of how those checks would be car­ried out left them with­out an­swers.

“When I go to jump in my air­plane and fly some­where I cer­tainly don’t want to be has­sled, ‘Can I see your li­cense? What’s your li­cense num­ber?’ I’m usu­ally in a hurry,” he said. But he added: “I think they could pro­vide some bet­ter reg­u­la­tions.”

Said Col­le­gio: “There is no real way to po­lice this, es­pe­cially when it comes to owner-op­er­a­tor.”

He sug­gested air traf­fic con­trol be re­quired to ask for li­cense in­for­ma­tion.

“If they want to fix the prob­lem, they can. But it’s go­ing to take Congress to do it,” he said.

T he P alm Be a ch Post reached out to U.S. Sen. Bill Nel­son, D-Fla., who sits on the Se­nate’s Com­mit­tee on Com­merce, Sci­ence and Trans­porta­tion, and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, and U.S. Rep. Fred­er­ica Wil­son, D-Mi­ami, who serve on the U.S. House Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee. None re­turned a re­quest for com­ment.

Cas­tronova and his wife, Mandy Cas­tronova, were in their twin-en­gine Cessna 335 last Sun­day morn­ing when it crashed into John Prince Park in subur­ban Lake Worth. The plane was just a mile from land­ing at the Lan­tana air­port. The Cas­trono­vas, who spent the week­end in Key West, died in the crash.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board has not said who was at the con­trols of the plane at the time of the wreck. The panel is ex­pected to re­lease a pre­lim­i­nary re­port in the next sev­eral days.

De­spite the as­ser­tions of the lo­cal pi­lots, the na­tional Air­craft Own­ers and Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion said Cas­tronova’s story is rare.

“It al­most de­fies be­lief,” said Richard McS­pad­den, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of AOPA’s Air Safety In­sti­tute.

He said the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of pi­lots are re­spon­si­ble and abide by the re­quire­ments, usu­ally go­ing above and be­yond. And the in­dus­try has worked hard to keep their ac­ci­dent rate at a record low for the fourth con­sec­u­tive year. He said a fa­tal ac­ci­dent hap­pens ev­ery .8 of ev­ery 100,000 flight hours. Most pi­lots fly about 75 hours per year on av­er­age, he said.

“That’s why you see all of us had such a re­ac­tion to this kind of ac­ci­dent be­cause it re­flects so poorly and so un­fairly on the way most gen­eral avi­a­tion pi­lots and the whole in­dus­try op­er­ates,” he said. “It’s just in­cred­i­ble, if all of that’s true, that some­body was do­ing that on that level and some­how was able to es­cape and get away with it.”

Pi­lots who flew with Cas­tronova said they didn’t know he didn’t have a li­cense, but said he was good at his craft. The FAA re­voked Cas­tronova’s li­cense in 1997 af­ter he made a “fraud­u­lent or in­ten­tion­ally false state­ment” on his ap­pli­ca­tion for a med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate.

Palm Beach County Com­mis­sioner David Kerner, who is a pi­lot, had landed at the Lan­tana air­port just hours be­fore the Cas­trono­vas crashed.

Kerner said he knew Cas­tronova in pass­ing, and years ago con­sid­ered hir­ing Cas­tronova’s com­pany, Nova Avi­a­tion, to fly him to Tal­la­has­see. He said he was “taken aback by the level of in­dif­fer­ence” Cas­tronova showed to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and li­cens­ing au­thor­ity.

Two res­i­dents wrote to Kerner af­ter learn­ing Cas­tronova had flown with­out a li­cense, and ques­tioned how that was al­lowed. Kerner told The Post that li­cens­ing of pi­lots is heav­ily reg­u­lated, but there isn’t ro­bust su­per­vi­sion once the li­cense is is­sued.

“There’s not FAA in­spec­tors con­stantly at th­ese air­ports check­ing li­censes,” he said. “A lot of it’s based on trust and the pro­fes­sional con­duct of pi­lots.”

Kerner, who has an ac­tive li­cense, said there’s just no way to check ev­ery­one.

“I would sup­port larger amounts of in­spec­tions, on spot in­spec­tions, but this par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent is so unique, so egre­gious, that I can’t think of an­other sce­nario like that,” he said.

The FAA does con­duct ramp checks, ei­ther ran­domly or as part of a sched­uled ac­tiv­ity with the pi­lot. In a ramp check, a pi­lot has to show re­quired cer­tifi­cates, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and doc­u­ments. The ran­dom checks are de­ter­mined by the FAA based on his­tor­i­cal fac­tors re­gard­ing in­ci­dents, ac­ci­dents and oc­cur­rences at the air­port or by the op­er­a­tor.

Op­er­at­ing a plane with­out a valid li­cense or med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate could re­sult in en­force­ment ac­tion rang­ing from a let­ter of warn­ing to sus­pen­sion or re­vo­ca­tion of his pi­lot li­cense and/or med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate, ac­cord-

De­spite the as­ser­tions of the lo­cal pi­lots, the na­tional Air­craft Own­ers and Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion said Cas­tronova’s story is rare.

ing to the FAA.

As far as in­sur­ance, the FAA doesn’t have any re­quire­ments that pi­lots carry it, an agency spokesper­son said.

Kamm, the Deer­field pi­lot, said when a pi­lot rents a hangar, own­ers typ­i­cally want to see proof of in­sur­ance.

The pi­lots com­pared fly­ing to driv­ing, and pointed out that when it comes to au­to­mo­biles, agen­cies com­mu­ni­cate.

Pi­lot Robert Katz of Dal­las noted that when a driver gets their li­cense re­voked there is still not a process pre­vent­ing them from get­ting be­hind the wheel. No one is check­ing whether ev­ery sin­gle driver on ev­ery sin­gle road has a valid li­cense or regis­tra­tion, he said.

“I think the FAA could do more, but ul­ti­mately there’s a limit,” he said. “You’re just not go­ing to stop some­one who has re­sources to an air­plane.”

He called on the FAA to be more proac­tive in­stead of re­ac­tive, but said the agency could get push­back.

“You’re go­ing to get all kinds of peo­ple who will say ‘gov­ern­ment is too big al­ready, the FAA is too big al­ready and we don’t need this, it’s a few bad ap­ples,’ ” he said.

“The FAA is not a gate­keeper. I don’t think the tax­payer would stand for the cost of man­dat­ing that FAA act like a gate­keeper to ver­ify cre­den­tials be­fore some­body climbs on board an air­plane, to test for sub­stance abuse be­fore climb­ing on board an air­plane.”

But some­thing should be done, he in­sisted.

“The FAA shows up af­ter the in­ci­dent oc­curs. The his­tory of the in­di­vid­ual comes to light af­ter the in­ci­dent oc­curs, af­ter the dam­age is done,” Katz said.

CON­TRIB­UTED BY GLENN CORKINS

Philip and Mandy Cas­tronova were in this twin-en­gine Cessna 335 last Sun­day when it crashed into John Prince Park near Lake Worth. The plane was just a mile from land­ing at the Lan­tana air­port. The Cas­trono­vas died in the crash.

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