...Incursion Pilot Loses Certificate...

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

The TSA rule is coming down two days after the FAA took the rare step of issuing an emergency revocation of Hayden "Jim" Sheaffer's certificate -- the pilot in command of the Cessna 150 that breached the ultra-sensitive airspace around the White House on May 11. It also came two days after a Canadian-registered Cessna 340 breached the ADIZ, causing a brief evacuation of the Capitol. It was reportedly having communications problems after taking a lightning strike. In announcing the action against Sheaffer, the most severe sanction against a pilot, the FAA said that allowing him to continue to fly represented an "unacceptable risk to safety." Among the long list of sins the FAA says Sheaffer committed, it repeatedly notes that through much of the crisis, he let his passenger Troy Martin, a student pilot with 30 hours of training, do the flying. "These failures establish that you lack the qualifications necessary to hold an airman certificate," the FAA said in its letter to Sheaffer. Meanwhile, the pilot has broken his silence on the incident with an interview on the Today Show in which he said he was afraid he was going to be shot down. According to some sources, he was almost right.

A story in Wednesday's Washington Post quotes several unnamed sources as saying that authorities were close (less than 20 seconds, some say) from giving the order to fire. The Post story says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had given approval to shoot the Cessna down. Rumsfeld has since said the situation never reached that point, and that he was not asked for and the situation did not require his involvement, according to a Pentagon spokesperson. The plane didn't turn away from a course toward the White House until it was within three miles of the official residence. And there's plenty of second-guessing going on in Washington security circles, with officials wondering what might have happened if anything but one of the slowest GA airplanes had been involved and had sinister intent. Even with the 150 plodding along at 90 knots, authorities only barely managed to get major target buildings evacuated before it could have posed a threat. "The question is, if it were a faster plane ... whether or not the system would have been as responsive," said Rep. Bonnie Thompson, of Mississippi, the senior Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.