FAA investigates Risky Business
Exhibition flyer could lose license for 40 days
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
World War II vintage aircraft allegedly buzzed Hailey neighborhoods this past summer
sparking a FAA investigation. (Photo by Jack McFall)
Following an investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration has
accused pilot Bill Rheinschild of performing dangerous, high-speed maneuvers over the city
of Hailey, including Friedman Memorial Airport, last summer in a World War II P-51 Mustang
During the flight, the FAA alleged, Rheinschilda highly regarded
contender in the annual high profile Reno air racesviolated six federal aviation
Included, the agency alleged, was creating a potential "undue
hazard to persons and property," an offense for which the FAA proposed grounding
Rheinschild for 40 days.
The FAA mailed the details of the investigation and the proposed
grounding to Rheinschild at the beginning of September, about a month after the alleged
Unless Rheinschild responded within 15 days, he would have to surrender
his flying privileges, the FAA warned him in a certified letter mailed to him on Sept. 7.
A glimpse into the FAAs investigation of Rheinschild was provided
to the Idaho Mountain Express following a request under the federal Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA).
The request produced about 20 pages of documents, including
correspondence, an FAA investigators report, several handwritten witness statements
and an aviation fuel receipt.
Neither Rheinschild, nor his Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, Mark
McDermott, would comment on the investigation.
The pilots personal assistant said in a phone call from Van Nuys,
Calif., that Rheinschild was "too busy" to talk to a reporter.
In a telephone conversation, McDermott said he wasnt talking to
the press because previous coverage by the Idaho Mountain Express had been
"damaging" to his client.
Because pilots cannot be policed the same way that automobile drivers
can, the core of most investigations into alleged violations of flying regulations
involves eyewitness statements, according to Hailey airport manager Rick Baird.
The investigation of Rheinschild includes at least five such statements
included in the FAAs response to the FOIA request.
One statement by a member of the airport operations staff, Terry
LaFleur, describes a high-speed, low-altitude pass over the runway by a P-51 called
"Risky Business" on the morning of Aug. 28, according to an FAA document.
The plane then performed a tight, banking turn, LaFleur says, and
buzzed the Woodside Subdivision and the downtown area at "approximately twice the
height of a telephone pole." Several eye witness written accounts by Hailey residents
of the Mustangs flight were provided to the FAA.
Janis Gillette said her "children were scared" and that she
thought the plane was going to "hit her house."
Barbara Wilkinson said she "could see the person inside the plane
it was so close," and that she thought "it was going to crash."
Anne Weber said she ran outside where her four children were screaming
and scared, to see if they were okay. She thought the plane was "in trouble" and
was going to crash.
Peggie Boyett that she lives "several hundred yards north" of
the airport, and was also concerned the plane would crash until she realized the pilot was
just a "show off."
During a previous telephone interview with the Express from
California-based RWR Cos., a real estate development group, Rheinschild denied being in
Hailey on the day of the flight, and that he had recently sold "Risky Business."
Rheinschild is identified as an RWR "principal" on the
companys Web site.
A list of facts from the FAA investigation, however, states that
Rheinschild purchased fuel for the plane on the day witnesses reported seeing the flight.
The facts, according to the FAA, state that Rheinschild had one
aircraft accident in a P-51 in December 1998, and two aircraft incidents in 1980 and 1984
Also, according to the FAA, Rheinschilds flying certificate was
suspended once before for violation of an FAA rule that prohibits fraudulent statements on
applications for medical certificates.
As far as the current investigation is concerned, FAA legal division
staffer Renee Hunsaker said Rheinschild has requested an informal conference with the FAA
to negotiate a decision. So far, however, no date has been set for the conference.
If the FAA and Rheinschild cant come to an agreement during the
conference, Hunsaker said, "a number of things could happen," including a court
trial if he seeks to overturn the potential suspension of his license.
However, she said, with the regulations that have to be followed, all
of that is "very far in the future."