FAA Tightens Rules for Small Planes Above East River in N.Y.

Associated Press
Saturday, October 14, 2006

NEW YORK, Oct. 13 -- Most small planes have been banned from flying along the East River in New York unless the pilot is in contact with air traffic control, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.

The announcement came two days after a plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle above the river slammed into a skyscraper.

The ban will affect small fixed-wing aircraft, which previously have been allowed to fly above the river along the East Side of Manhattan. It does not apply to helicopters.

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. Now pilots of small planes will have to obtain approval from air traffic controllers before entering the area.

On Friday, federal officials completed an on-site investigation of Wednesday's crash, which killed Lidle, 34, and Tyler Stanger, 26, a flight instructor from California.

Aviation experts have cited the tight airspace over the city as a possible cause of the crash. Other possibilities include inexperience, mechanical failure, hazy weather or a gust of wind through New York's concrete canyons.

According to radar data, the single-engine plane appeared to be making a commonly performed left turn over a 710-yard-wide section of the river between Manhattan and Queens when it crashed.

Investigators said they have not determined who was at the controls.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said it does not know whether the plane had a mechanical problem. The propeller was turning when the plane hit the building, suggesting that the engine was still running. There was no indication that the pilot issued a distress call.

Lidle was new to flying and to his plane, a Cirrus SR20. Stanger was a veteran pilot and teacher but had limited experience flying near Manhattan.

Those factors might have made for a less-than-perfect mix in the narrow aviation corridor just east of the city's skyscrapers, on a less-than-perfect day of low clouds and limited visibility.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company