10-month suspension for pilot who violated D.C. airspace

June 15, 2005

10-month suspension for pilot who violated D.C. airspace

Pennsylvania pilot Hayden "Jim" Sheaffer will be kept out of the left seat for at least 10 months for violating the heavily restricted airspace around the nation's capital May 11. Late Tuesday evening, Sheaffer and his attorney reached an agreement with the FAA on the revocation of his pilot certificate. In exchange for dropping his appeal of that revocation, the FAA will allow him to reapply for his certificate in 10 months, rather than 12. (One year is usually standard following an emergency revocation. See AOPA's Overview of FAA Enforcement ).

Sheaffer was scheduled to appear before an NTSB administrative law judge Wednesday and Thursday to appeal that emergency revocation.

The FAA was prepared to call various government and private witnesses to support its allegation that Sheaffer lacked "the qualifications necessary to hold an airman certificate." In its eight-page emergency revocation action against Sheaffer, the FAA said that he failed to properly prepare for the flight from Smoketown, Pennsylvania, to Lumberton, North Carolina. He wandered into the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and to within three miles of the White House before intercepting F-16s and a Blackhawk helicopter managed to divert the Cessna 150 to Maryland's Frederick Municipal Airport outside the ADIZ.

"Your operation of civil aircraft N5826G under these circumstances demonstrates either a complete disregard or lack of understanding of basic requirements for the safe operation of aircraft," the revocation letter said. The FAA contended Sheaffer failed to conduct basic preflight planning, did not obtain an official briefing, became disoriented shortly after taking off, and didn't follow appropriate procedures after being intercepted inside the ADIZ.

Under the agreement with the FAA, Sheaffer can regain his pilot certificate after 10 months provided he passes new practical and knowledge exams (a "written" and a "flight check"). "I think it's a fair settlement, " Sheaffer's attorney, Mark McDermott, told the Washington Post. "My client is interested in promoting safety, so he has elected not to fight it and go through retraining. He'll get back to flying as soon as possible."

The FAA took no action against student pilot Troy Martin, who was actually at the controls, because Sheaffer was the only one who could have been pilot in command (although the FAA also contended that Sheaffer wasn't current to carry a passenger).

June 15, 2005