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Archive for Friday, October 13, 2006

Crash renews airspace worries

October 13, 2006

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— A day after the fiery plane crash that killed Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, politicians expressed alarm that, five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, small aircraft still are allowed to fly right up next to the New York skyline.

"I think everyone is scratching their head, wondering how it is possible that an aircraft can be buzzing around Manhattan," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who has been lobbying for rule changes since 2004. "It's virtually the Wild West. There is no regulation at all, other than 'Don't run into anything.'"

The single-engine plane that carried Lidle to his death was flying over the East River, which separates Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens and is lined on the Manhattan side by the United Nations and scores of other skyscrapers.

It is one of the city's busiest and most popular routes for sightseeing pilots, traffic helicopters and executives hopping from one business deal to the next, and it is largely unmonitored, as long as the aircraft stay below 1,100 feet.

Lawmakers have tried for years to close the corridor for reasons of safety and security.

Gov. George Pataki said Thursday that the Federal Aviation Administration "needs to take a much tougher line" about private, or general aviation, flights over the city.

However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a recreational pilot with decades of experience, said he thinks the skies are safe under the current rules.

"We have very few accidents for an awful lot of traffic," he said. "Every time you have an automobile accident, you're not going to go and close the streets or prohibit people from driving."

Aviation officials have downplayed the potential threat posed by light aircraft, but FAA spokeswoman Laura J. Brown said in a written statement Thursday that the agency would review its guidelines for general aviation and flight restrictions as a result of the Lidle crash.

And an aviation industry representative said Wednesday's crash demonstrates that small private planes have little potential as terrorist weapons.

"Yesterday's accident caused no structural damage to the building struck," said Chris Dancy, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. Small planes "are simply incapable of causing the kind of catastrophic damage that terrorists usually seek."

All flights over New York were grounded after 9/11, but the restrictions were lifted three months later.

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