FAA bans most fixed-wing planes from East River under visual flight rules

Friday, October 13th 2006, 9:22 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Most small, fixed-wing planes have been banned from flying along the East River in New York City unless the pilot is in contact with air traffic controllers, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.

The announcement comes two days after a plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor above the East River slammed into a skyscraper.

The ban will affect small aircraft, but not helicopters, that previously have been allowed to fly along the river, which runs along the east side of Manhattan Island.

The FAA exempted seaplanes that fly in and out of a seaplane base in the river. Those pilots are more familiar with the airspace than private pilots like Lidle and his flight instructor, who were new to the area.

Since 1980, flights along the river have been limited to small aircraft flying no higher than 1,100 feet in weather good enough for pilots to see and avoid other airplanes.

Federal officials on Friday wound up an onsite investigation of Wednesday's crash that killed Lidle and Tyler Stanger, a 26-year-old flight instructor from California.

The FAA said a review of operations and procedures in the East River corridor prompted the rule change, which will require pilots of small, fixed-wing aircraft to obtain approval from air traffic controllers before entering the area.

The flight restrictions go into effect immediately, the FAA said.

New York Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had asked the FAA on Thursday to require anyone flying near Manhattan to be under the supervision of air traffic controllers.

"A smart terrorist could load up a small, little plane with biological, chemical or even nuclear material and fly up the Hudson or East rivers, no questions asked," said Schumer.

The senator said the Lidle crash should be "a wake-up call to the FAA to re-examine flight patterns, which, amazingly enough, they haven't done since 9/11." The date refers to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack when two airliners were flown into the World Trade Center.

The FAA, though, said it changed the rule because of safety rather than security considerations.

"You get some real strange winds going through those canyons of buildings," said Bill Waldock, aviation safety professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at Prescott, Ariz.

"It's a weird area to try to maneuver airplanes in anyway," Waldock said.