September 9, 2008

Pilots Defend Safety of Small Planes

By Henry Brean



On Wednesday night, residents got the chance to air their concerns about flights into and out of the North Las Vegas Airport.

On Thursday night, it was the aviators' turn.

Several dozen pilots, from flight instructors to weekend hobbyists, gathered in the airport terminal to defend the safety of small private airplanes and respond to questions and criticism from residents.

"Stop and look at the safety record of aviation as a whole. We're doing a pretty dang good job," said local pilot, flight instructor and dentist Scott Brooksby.

The meetings this week were organized in response to a pair of fatal airplane crashes within one week last month.

An experimental aircraft crashed into a single-story North Las Vegas house near Lake Mead Boulevard and Simmons Street shortly after take-off the morning of Aug. 22, killing the pilot and an elderly couple inside the home.

The second crash, just six days later, involved a twin-engine airplane that crashed into a house on North Jones Boulevard one mile short of the North Las Vegas Airport, killing the pilot.

About 50 residents and general aviation pilots met Wednesday night to discuss ways of avoiding future accidents.

Thursday's meeting was called by the Clark County Aviation Association, a private group of pilots and airplane owners.

Association President David Lerner said the goal was to open a dialogue with homeowners living near the airport and hopefully ease their minds somewhat.

Particular emphasis was given to the safety of experimental or home-built planes.

"Remember: The guy who's building it is going to be flying it, and he wants to make sure everything is just the way it should be," said pilot and experimental aircraft owner Ed Smith.

When asked what home-owners should make of two crashes into homes six days apart, long-time instructor pilot Kathleen Snaper shrugged.

"You can't make sense of it," she said.

Federal investigators continue to search for clues to explain the accidents. Until that work is finished, Lerner urged the public not to speculate about what might have occurred.

He and others also warned residents not to expect much help from local officials when it comes to implementing new flight rules and airport protocols.

"There's no such thing as trying to control aviation flights locally. That's a federal matter," Lerner said.

But there are some things that can be done outside the regulatory arena, said Fred Sorenson, whose 42-year career in aviation includes work as a commercial pilot, instructor and aircraft mechanic.

He suggested pilots fly at higher altitudes when possible, carry less fuel in hot weather to make their planes more maneuverable, and control their propeller speeds to reduce noise over homes near the airport.

Sorenson also encouraged the use of enhanced maps to help pilots fly over the least densely populated areas.

Burying utility lines underground instead of hanging them from tall poles within a three-mile radius of the airport also might help prevent accidents, Sorenson said.

Flight instructor Luis Magana said pilots and instructors can do a better job policing themselves. If someone sees an individual cutting corners or doing something incorrectly, they should say something, he said.

For his part, Magana said he plans to further stress with his student pilots the importance of preflight checks for mechanical problems.

The key message of the night was that general aviation pilots and mechanics take safety seriously, and residents have more to fear on the roads than they do from the sky.

"If we were to close every street where a fatal accident has occurred, none of us would be able to drive anywhere," Brooksby said to applause from the audience.

"You all drive carefully going home," Sorenson added at the end of his remarks. "There's people trying to kill you out there on the highway."

Review-Journal writer Lynnette Curtis contributed to this report. Contact reporter Henry Brean at [email protected] or 702-383- 0350.

(c) 2008 Las Vegas Review - Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.