Dayton Daily New Article

This is an article I wrote to the Dayton Daily News, which appeared on Saturday May 5 2012.


Tom Hausfeld, the pilot of the ill-fated flight on April 1, might be alive today if not for the poor decisions to erect buildings on the approach path of incoming airplanes. While fear is being raised about the possibility of airplanes falling off the sky on innocent people, the true hazard is actually the other way around. When Tom lost engine power, he was required by the Federal aviation regulations to maneuver the airplane away from persons or property on the ground. This is exactly what he did. Not a single piece of metal fell on anyone outside the airport fence. It is also evident that he struggled to hold the airplane high enough to clear the roofs of the buildings that were on the approach path, which robbed him of the precious last few knots of airspeed that is so essential for staying airborne.

The foremost tragedy in this story is that we lost a fine citizen and a fine aviator of our community. The second tragedy is how this is being spun to advance the interests of businesses and other groups. The pilot and his passenger were the victims here. The hazard was the building. How anyone can turn that story around is amazing to me. Munroe Muffler built a shop at the very edge of the runway, and then goes on the news media complaining about low flying airplanes.

The fact that airplanes fly low just prior to landing is not a new phenomenon. This is how airplanes were flown since Orville and Wilbur. The FAA and the laws of physics require airplanes to fly in a shallow 3-5 degree glide angle during approach. At Wright Brothers airport, this means the airplanes have been crossing the fence at roughly 75 ft altitude for nearly half a century. Several years back I recall looking down during a final approach, at the construction site where the gas station and the Munroe shop now sits, wondering why in the world anyone would choose to build there knowing the risk it poses to aircraft. That choice ended up costing the lives of two innocent people.

Residents are understandably concerned about the possibility of airplanes crashing into their homes. However, it can be verified from the NTSB records that statistically this is an extremely unlikely event. Nevertheless, public perception is still important, and communities and airports need to work together to create a mutually safe environment. But that is a two-way street. Erecting buildings with no regard to aircraft safety, and then accusing pilots of flying too close to those buildings is not an environment that creates mutual trust. Communities such as Settler’s Walk can write their own rules on how airplanes should fly, but unless such rules are incorporated into the Federal registry they will have little or no effect. Airport operations are not regulated by city, state or residential communities. Airports are part of a vast national network, and operate under federal regulations. Airplanes flying here from Florida or Texas or even just from Cincinnati cannot be expected to know about the covenants of Settler’s Walk or the opinions of Munroe Muffler.

 

Andrew Sarangan

Professor

University of Dayton

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