Going Up, Near Downtowns: Flight Rules & Common Sense

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) - Investigators are still trying to determine what caused a private plane to crash into a New York high-rise.

The crash set fire to the building, injuring dozens and killing Yankee's pitcher Cory Lidle and flight instructor Tyler Stanger instantly.

Could this type of tragedy ever happen here in East Tennessee?

The short answer is: it shouldn't happen, if every pilot follows the pre-checks, and the rules for how-high, and where, he or she should be.

But factor in the mountains, the TV antennas, the large number of corporate and pleasure flyers, especially over holidays and game
Weekends, it gets more complicated.

Even with grey skies and brisk winds, corporate and pleasure traffic still keeps Downtown Knoxville's airport humming, the heart of East Tennessee's tricky terrain.

"You need to understand that if you take off West from Island Home Airport, and you have engine failure, you're immediately over the downtown business district without an engine," Pete Michaels, Volunteer TV's Traffic Reporter and veteran pilot explains.

Volunteer TV's Eye in the Sky has been grounded a few days for an overhaul, but before he ever goes up, Pete Michaels takes about 20 minutes to go over his bird.

"There's about six or seven visual checks you make, whether it be the elevators, wing tips, controls surfaces, elevators, aileron," Michaels explains.

"With the more experience you get in anything, whether it's flying an airplane or driving a care, you always take additional precautions," Brandon Hughett's been flying for ten years. He's Operations Director for Knoxville's Flight Training Center.

"In some major metropolitan areas, there are areas where you must be in communication with air traffic control to fly in that airspace," Hughett says.

The FAA says Yankee's Pitcher Cory Lidle, or his instructor, was flying under visual flight rules when his plane crashed. he was supposed to stay over east river and under 1100 feet.

He did not have to file a flight plan.

"You've got to have a plan, you've got to know your route. Any ground checkpoints as far as locating those ground checkpoints for navigation," explains Hughett.

Hughett believes Lidle's crash will give even the most experience pilots a gut check.

Pete Michaels says he always gives himself some extra altitude flying around downtown.

For if the worst should happen, "Keep the gear up, use the river, and you know a pilot can make a great landing, but like the TV commercial says, can he swim?"

The 9/11 attacks banned general aviation aircraft from flying within certain distances of skyscrapers and stadiums, bans since lifted.

But maps, available to all pilots, will list heights of buildings, other structures, all material that, many veteran pilots agree, should be part of any pre-flight checklist.


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