The Palm Beach Post

Unlicensed pilots need to be grounded


According to the Federal Aviation Administra­tion (FAA), there are 813,2000 pilots licensed to fly in the United States.

What the regulatory agency doesn’t know is how many pilots climb into the cockpits of planes and fly in the U.S. without a valid license. And there’s the rub.

Pilots, airport operators and government regulators readily admit that any number of pilots are flying aircraft into and out of airfields like Palm Beach County Park Airport in Lantana — daily — without a process in place, government or otherwise, to require those pilots to present a valid license.

The Post’s Alexandra Seltzer, in an eye-opening report last Sunday, confirmed that pilots routinely use the busy Lantana airport without ever having to show an up-to-date pilot’s license and medical certificat­e. It is illegal to pilot a plane without one.

Doing spot checks, as the FAA does now to catch scofflaws, is laughable. And waiting for someone to tip off

Doing spot checks, as the FAA does now to catch scofflaws, is laughable. And waiting for someone to tip off the FAA is ludicrous.

the FAA is ludicrous.

This gaping hole in regulatory air safety exists because no one seems particular­ly incentiviz­ed to close it. Not the pilots, who don’t want their freedom infringed upon. Not small airports that depend on those pilots for revenue. Not even the FAA, which lacks the budgetary wherewitha­l to enforce such checks.

Well, someone should.

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

But, he added: “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. Still, he said: “I think they could provide some better regulation­s.”

Indeed. One can’t help but wonder that if a simple procedural check were in place — say, requiring pilots to show proof of a valid license and medical certificat­e when they file a flight plan — Philip Castronova and his wife, Mandy, might still be alive.

Why? Because Philip Castronova, whose license had been revoked by the FAA 21 years ago, likely wouldn’t have been flying his twin-engine Cessna 335 and crashing it at John Prince Park. The exact cause of the Sept. 9 plane crash remains unclear as the FAA and National Transporta­tion Safety Board (NTSB) continue to investigat­e.

We should resist the temptation to write off the fatal plane crash as an anomaly. Yes, Castronova was an experience­d pilot with some 1,800 hours logged. Yes, even properly licensed pilots, unfortunat­ely, may crash. But without a license, Castronova shouldn’t have been allowed to fly a plane.

The 70-year-old suburban Lake Worth resident’s license was yanked in 1997 for making a “fraudulent­ly or intentiona­lly false statement” on his applicatio­n for a medical certificat­e. Worsening matters, Castronova never attempted to get his license back, the FAA says, even though he could have done so as soon as a year later.

This needs to be treated as a wake-up call, as it appears that it was only good fortune that no one on the ground was killed. John Prince Park is ringed by residentia­l neighborho­ods, apartment complexes, shopping centers, Palm Beach State College and JFK Medical Center.

In October 2015, Banny Galicia, a 21-year-old Palm Beach State student, was killed while sleeping in her bedroom when a single-engine Piper PA-28 Cherokee crashed into her home as the plane was coming in for a landing. She lived in the Mar-Mak Colony Club mobile home community about a mile and a half from the Lantana airport.

We don’t question Aircraft Owners and Pilots Associatio­n (AOPA) spokesman Richard McSpadden’s assertion that the overwhelmi­ng majority of pilots responsibl­y abide by the requiremen­ts. Or that the industry has worked hard to keep their accident rate at a record low for the fourth consecutiv­e year.

But the Castronova crash shows that something more needs to be done. The pilots and FAA have an opportunit­y to add a much-needed layer of safety to help ensure that responsibl­e pilots are flying aircraft.

Airports like the one in Lantana — which one pilot referred to as “the Wild, Wild West” — need to be checked.

A suggestion: Create a data-entry system that requires a valid license and up-to-date medical certificat­e when filing a flight plan. Otherwise, the approval process stops.

It’s not a panacea. But it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to help deter people from dying.

 ?? MELANIE BELL / PALM BEACH POST ?? Two people were killed in this Sept. 9 plane crash in Lake Worth.
MELANIE BELL / PALM BEACH POST Two people were killed in this Sept. 9 plane crash in Lake Worth.
 ??  ?? Castronova

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