FAA Investigating Senator Inhofe's Closed Runway Landing

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Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) says he won't guarantee he'll be more vigilant about checking NOTAMs after he landed on a closed runway occupied by maintenance workers ten days ago in Texas. "People who fly a lot just don't do it," Inhofe told the Tulsa World. "I won't make any commitments." Inhofe added that while "technically" pilots should "probably" check NOTAMs, it would be impractical for him to do so on the many flights he makes to small airports in Oklahoma each year. The FAA has confirmed it is investigating the Oct 21 incident in which Inhofe landed a Cessna 340 on an occupied closed runway at Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport, Texas, He was reportedly carrying three others in the light twin when he made the landing on a runway bearing oversized painted Xs, a large red truck, other vehicles, and construction workers. The workers were using loud equipment at the time and didn't hear the plane's approach, so one person ran to warn them. A supervisor immediately reported the incident to the FAA and told TulsaWorld.com he was "still shaking" when he reached the hangar to confront the pilot. For his part, Inhofe said he didn't see the Xs until late on final and was concerned he might not be able to abort safely. He said he landed "well off to the side" of the workers. There were no injuries. A few days after his unorthodox arrival, Inhofe Saturday notified "an airport official" of his intent and used a taxiway for departure, according to The Washington Post. The senator has since spoken with the FAA and will "just wait and see what happens." That hasn't stopped him from offering reporters some form of explanation.

TulsaWorld.com reports that Inhofe said he was unaware of the runway's closure NOTAM because of "a bad relationship he has with one individual, who the Senator said declined to take his phone calls before the flight and did not tell him about the NOTAM." In the Washington Post's coverage, Inhofe said an airport official "hates me, I don't know why." The FAA's current interest is why the landing happened while the runway was clearly marked with the requisite oversized Xs. It will attempt to determine why Inhofe was apparently not aware of a NOTAM about the closure and investigate the circumstances of the taxiway departure. The airport has four runways but according to AirNav all except the main one (13/31) are in poor condition. In his 50 years as a pilot, Inhofe has experienced at least two other publicized incidents. In 1999, Inhofe suffered an emergency landing when his aircraft lost its propeller, and in 2006 he ground-looped a Vans RV-8 built by his son.