Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pilot makes illegal landing in Hailey

FAA probes 'emergency' landing at Friedman

Express Staff Writer

The closed Friedman Memorial Airport was prematurely "opened" Thursday by a general aviation pilot who made what is described as an illegal landing to drop off his sister, then took off without proper clearance or permission.

Based on the course heading he claimed he was flying, the pilot would have been far off course to land in Hailey.

Identified as William S. Powers, of Boise, Friedman Operations Manager Pete Kramer said Powers landed his relatively slow Cessna 172 at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, May 4, from the south on the 6,900-foot runway, which has been closed since April 24 for major improvements and construction.

Friedman will reopen for full operations as scheduled at 7 p.m. today, May 10, Kramer said.

During the closing, both runway ends have been dominated by upright, 12-foot-high X markers with flashing light bulbs, the traditional signal an airport runway is closed to all but emergency traffic.

Kramer quoted Powers as saying his aircraft encountered an "emergency" problem and that he attempted to contact the Friedman control tower as well as the Federal Aviation Administration's Salt Lake City Air Route Traffic Control Center.

But neither the Friedman tower, which has been manned throughout the closing, nor the Salt Lake center received any such radio transmission, Kramer said. Both maintain continuous audio tape recordings of all radio communications.

Kramer said Powers claimed to have been on a flight from the Boise area to Jerome. However, Jerome is on a southeasterly heading from the Boise area, whereas Friedman is almost directly east of Boise -- and some 70 miles north of the Jerome airport.

FAA Northwest Region spokesman Mike Fergus said the FAA is investigating to determine what, if any, penalties could or should be imposed. Pilot infractions can result in sanctions ranging from an admonition to license revocation.

Powers has an unlisted Boise-area telephone number and could not be reached for comment on the incident.

After landing, Kramer said, Powers taxied to the parking area of the Friedman operations building beside the terminal. He reportedly shut down the engine and discharged a passenger identified as Powers' sister, who walked to the terminal areas and boarded a taxi.

"You know you've just landed at a closed airport," Kramer said he told Powers. Although dozens of trucks and heavy equipment vehicles have been working at the airport, Kramer said none were on the runway, but were on the shoulder area.

During the next 40 minutes, Kramer said, Powers did not explain the aircraft's purported "emergency," nor did he open the engine cowling or make any other visual checks of the aircraft as if to determine a mechanical problem.

Powers, who Kramer believes to be in his 40s, was described by Kramer as "nervous" during their conversation.

Kramer contacted Airport Manager Rick Baird at home to report the landing. Baird then contacted FAA officials in Boise and Seattle.

On Baird's instructions, Kramer said he told Powers he was not to take off. But while Kramer was on the telephone, Powers boarded his aircraft, fired up the engine, taxied to a midpoint on the runway and took off to the south without clearance or approval from the control tower or Friedman authorities. The FAA said the aircraft returned to the Nampa airport.

Kramer said this is the first such incident in his 15 years at Friedman, which has closed several times in the past for construction work.

The FAA registration of Powers' aircraft, N3730R, describes it as a 1966 model Cessna 172, which seats four. That model can land in less than 1,000 feet and takeoff in less than 2,000 feet, cruises at less than 150 miles per hour and lands at less than 100 miles per hour. More 172s have been built than any other general aviation aircraft -- more than 42,000.

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