Harrison Ford Under Investigation For Runway Incursion


Actor Harrison Ford is under investigation by the FAA following a runway incursion at California’s Hawthorne Municipal Airport (HHR) last Friday. Ford, 77, taxied across Runway 7/25 in an Aviat Husky after he “misheard” a hold-short instruction from air traffic control. According to the FAA, another aircraft was performing a touch-and-go on the runway and the two aircraft were approximately 3600 feet apart at the time of the incident.

“Mr. Ford crossed the airport’s only runway in his aircraft after he misheard a radio instruction from ATC,” Ford’s publicist Ina Treciokas said in a statement. “He immediately acknowledged the mistake and apologized to ATC for the error. The purpose of the flight was to maintain currency and proficiency in the aircraft. No one was injured and there was never any danger of a collision.”

Ford, who has been a pilot for more than 20 years, was also investigated by the FAA in 2017 after he landed his Husky on a taxiway at John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County, California, overflying an American Airlines 737. A statement from Ford’s lawyer said that investigators “determined that no administrative or enforcement actions were warranted.” In March 2015, Ford experienced an engine failure in a Ryan PT-22 and made a forced landing on a golf course. Ford was hospitalized following the accident, which was attributed to a carburetor malfunction.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. Hmmm… let’s see; “can we start with having a talk with the Instructor that accomplished the CFR 61.56 Flight Review?”

    • Surely you jest. Hanging that over a CFI’s head? Do you want a 10 hour review covering absolutely everything? Come on…

  2. Some how, Harry’s perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space became unreachable.

    • am I miss hearing this or does he repeat the “hold short” instruction ? then proceed to cross the active ?

      • Following his second read back, the controller (at about 1:30) repeated his instruction – Ford apparently heard that instruction wrong and proceeded across the runway.

  3. Hard to judge if this was bad decision making or just bad ears. Either way it’s not a great situation for a public individual who has generally been a positive ambassador for aviation.

    • Listen to the recording with readback from pilot TWICE and then see if “bad decision” or something else.

  4. After over flying the AA 737 at SNA, his home base airport, and landing on the taxiway.. Mr Ford was awarded the “Bob Hoover Award”.. There’s a trend here.. What will this award be?

  5. As a former ATC type guy for 38 years, including some of those years at the world’s busiest airports at the time, I’m personally declaring this a total non event. Although there is a “technical” requirement to protect the runway regardless of how, in you wildest dreams there is no safety issue at the moment, these type events happen all the time…both by pilots, AND also by controllers. You’ve all either done them or had it done to you if you’ve been involved in this for a while. I know I’ve sure seen and done both in my 60+ years of aviation. Harrison ended up crossing the runway at the very far west end of the runway and the nearest aircraft was way, way back up towards the east end of the runway, over half a mile. Technically wrong, I guess, if anyone is watching. But the only other aircraft would have had eventually to run off the end of the 3600 foot runway to hit Harrison, and only if Harrison had stopped in the middle of the runway while crossing.

    Now, the controller..or ATC. Harrison said, ‘”holding short of 25″. The controller then commited a big controller technique error by prefacing his desire for Harrison to Hold Short with the word “CONTINUE” That is a “no no” in the controller world if you do not wish someone to do something. A pilot hears continue, many times that is exactly what he/she will do. (The word “cleared” should never be used either except for takeoff and landing).

    Now about communications. It is always the controller’s requirement to hear readbacks and correct them if necessary, not the pilot’s fault for reading back incorrectly (even though some pilots do have their head up their, well you know, when they should be listening up better). Our form of communications does not insure what the controller says will always be heard correctly. Controller responsibility is to insure what he/she says is understood either by readback or observing actions.

    And….the radio is no time to be doing “head butting” whether it is done by the pilot or controller. So the controller’s , “you need to listen up” is totally not necessary for a professional controller to speak..or it’s just muscle flexing.

    This event at a busy facility would have been an absolute non event. Somebody did an “I’m gonna tell on you” somehow. And last thing…..as a controller I used to always say to my cohorts, “If you live (work) in a glass house, do not throw stones”….unless you think you will be the only controller in ATC to lead a life of ATC perfection.

    And, the controller again…he heard Harrison say he was crossing. Well, did the controller do anything correctly to prevent this “technical” issue from happening, no. The controller should have, if he observed Harrison still not compromising the hold short lines, said, “Negative! Hold Short! Hold Short! Acknowledge!” That would have resolved the issue. Or if Harrison had already crossed the lines (although there was no safety issue at all) the controller, to cover his ass should have told the other aircraft to “Go Around, traffic is crossing the far end of the runway” That would have corrected it technically. An non issue! Now..back to my cup of coffee.

    • Roger, thanks for a reasoned and fair analysis of the situation from both sides of the aisle. Rather than be quick to lambast Harrison for what SEEMS to be ‘another’ pilot error on his part, you realized that there’s more to the story. There always is. I don’t see a link to the actual communications in this event; you obviously must have heard it ?

      IF, as you say, the controller used the word “continue,” I don’t see how anyone could hold Harrison responsible for … um … continuing. That’s pretty cut and dried from where I sit. And if the controller ‘yelled’ at him subsequently, that — too — is unprofessional. In this evolution and using your analysis, it sure sounds like Harrison didn’t do anything wrong. As you say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. And there were multiple paths to correct the situation, too

      Having flown in busy SoCal for 27 years, I can attest to the fact that some controllers lose sight of the forest for the trees … i.e., they’re RESPONSIBLE for ensuring correct communications. Some of them aren’t real good on the radio, talk too fast and their actual voice inflections impact good communications. When in doubt, double check is a good modus operandi. If I had been Harrison, I’d have done just that.

      A few years ago, I was in a new LSA flying with an elderly (read slow) friend who was showing off his new machine. We were landing at a busy airport in FL and had received clearance to land when I heard the tower clear a second faster airplane to land behind us. As the LSA was rolling out, I heard the second airplane call short final. We had just passed a connector taxiway so I yelled at my friend to make a L ~135 deg turn and head for that taxiway to clear ASAP as opposed to rolling out which would have taken far longer. The tower chewed us out for that saying he wanted us to roll out. That was NOT in his instruction. I see this all the time. ATC issues dual “clear to land” orders. When I learned how to fly 50 years ago, that wasn’t done. In todays “runway incursions are mortal sins” environment (at least in the FAA’s eye), why are they doing that? This peeped me off so I decided to deal with it directly and called the tower after I got home.

      I got into it with the controller and told him that if he was going to violate anyone for the evolution, violate ME as it was I who told my friend to clear the runway ASAP by the quickest means. I reminded him that — as I see it — when I’ve been cleared to land and HAVE landed, the runway belongs to me until I clear. The conversation ended amicably but I decided to delve into it deeper.

      Turns out in the 7110.65, it is permissible for a controller to issue dual ‘cleared to land’ commands if certain spacing is observed or verified. Fine and dandy but I never heard of the 7110.65 until many years after I learned how to fly. I don’t know of any pilots who know about it, either. So — again — sometimes it IS up to the controllers to initially issue a command and then follow up by ensuring it’s going the way he intended. Most controllers are pretty good that way but a few … I think they’re just doing a job for pay.

      Thanks again … you made my morning. Harrison better be absolved here as I see it. Randy — below — seems to agree.

      • AIM 4−3−20. Exiting the Runway After Landing The following procedures must be followed after landing and reaching taxi speed.
        a. … At airports with an operating control tower, pilots should not stop or reverse course on the runway without first obtaining ATC approval.

    • good analysis. I would hate to be Harrison Ford and have my mistakes be scrutinized by everyone.

    • Good wisdom here. I had my initial IFR checkride cut short over controller-pilot communications somewhere in the last century. In my case, I was doing fine and nearly completed the checkride with 2 approaches left to demonstrate. The DPE told me to call Center for a clearance due to a layer of CBs in the way of the ILS. Center told me the field was VFR call the Tower. Tower told me to call Center. Center was miffed and gave me a clearance but with a different IAF than the published JEPP fix. I read back the clearance properly and proceeded as cleared. As we were passing the Locator (the published IAF) for the on field VOR, the DPE blew a gasket, ripped the plate out of the holder and pointed out the NDB/locator fix and asked me in blunt terms what are you doing????? What was a poor low time pilot to do? I pointed out to the examiner that I was filing as cleared…nope…he just got hotter. I pointed out I knew I had read back “cleared to the vor then left turn fly the full procedure outbound.” He just got more excited, so, I continued and asked the poor controller to repeat my clearance. He did, at student pilot speed. I read back at student pilot speed. The DPE never said a word as I continued to fly the procedure as cleared. We were switched to tower at procedure turn inbound and cleared for low approach. DPE said, no, tell him you’re landing. Busted, I thought. We landed and taxied in. I was escorted into the office and got the richest lecture on cockpit complacency I ever heard. He asked if I had any questions? Just one. When can I re-take the checkride. He told me that anyone who could remain calm on a checkride with a lunatic who didn’t listen to the controllers raving in the right seat could pass any checkride and handed me my ticket. His final words to me: Even a 20,000 hour DPE can and does miss a communication, and the willingness of a pilot who might not have it right and ask the question might save someone’s life. I went on to take a number of additional checkrides with him until he finally retired.

  6. Think it wouldn’t be news if it wasn’t Harrison Ford, sounded like an honest mistake that he realized and apologized for. Is the picture right? Sure looks like Delmar Benjamin to me.

  7. It’s difficult to watch a man that I respect begin to demonstrate the loss of his his physical senses and situational awareness.

  8. Mark,

    Seems like a pretty big leap. Especially when none of us were there to know what actually happened.

    Young folks make mistakes too, even if it turns out that’s what did happen.

    • Well, he’s 77 years old , a history years of drug use, and serious head injuries from a crash not that long ago, I can have the opinion that it’s taken it’s toll. He has noticeable sured speech and is making basic mistakes. Sometimes it’s time to hang up the spurs…

  9. For everyone who is being so quick to pile onto Harrison Ford for being either too senile and/or incompetent to fly you should really read Roger’s very in depth description above. Also please listen to the realtime recordings as well. They’re on several sites to include YouTube. You’ll then see it’s not as cut and dry as you think. In addition to the fact that the controller hit his mic button AFTER beginning to talk so that the instruction was muddled, he had already instructed him to hold short of the runway, which Ford had done. In a normal situation the next instruction Ford should have heard was permission to cross. There was no reason for ATC to instruct to continue to hold. That’s not SOP. So when you put that together with a quick and slightly garbled msg, I’m sure Ford did indeed believe he heard “Continue across” instead of “Continue to hold”. IMHO ATC doesn’t have a leg to stand on in this situation.

  10. A bunch of comments above.
    Getting to the headlines – What is there to investigate? over

  11. Roger’s comment about this runway crossing/incursion was perfectly said, in my opinion. BITD, pilots and Air Traffic Controllers got along to get along. Unless you were a completely unsafe pilot things got worked out without anyone calling the cops.
    Here is an example: I’m a captain on a scheduled commuter plane to Nantucket, there is a once in a lifetime Eclipse of the sun directly over ACK: ‘Eclipse of the Century’: When Nantucket Went Dark in 1970. The entire population of small planes are buzzing around the airport, getting a word in edgewise to ATC is impossible. Well, there was no problem whatsoever, because the Tower and pilots used common sense and pilots did the right thing to stay safe. The Tower controller would say, “plane landing continue”, “Twin, on final, continue,” (that’s me in a C-402, hanging on the props!), “plane taking off, continue” and so on. The same for take off, basically not too much said by anyone, but just professional work by all in a bee hive of activity. If someone would have called the cops that day we’d all be in trouble. The desire to take a peek at the eclipse was difficult to control for all pilots that day as I recall, my co-pilot having to get eyes checked having looked at the eclipse.
    BTW, ‘Wings’, the sit-com, is spot on, except our little airline pilots were funnier. When I’d arrive over the OM inbound, Ginger, the cook put on the eggs and bacon and, yes, we knew most of the passengers and the folks on the island.

  12. Roger here again. Not trying to be a “know it all”. However, I soloed out of Torrance in ’59 and continued to fly actively out of all the L.A. basin airports until ’76 when I left the area. From ’68 until leaving the area, I worked as an ATC type out there including at Long Beach, both Tracon (when there was such a thing) and in the control tower also. This was the era of VA flight training. LGB was at the time the 4th busiest airport in the country with at times as many as 22 flight schools operating off the airport, 560K operations a year. My point is these “who cares” events occured all the time by both pilots and controllers. Had we “told on” each other every time, the region would have had to hire another dozen persons just to process our paperwork. Pilots and controllers quickly forgive each other for these minor indiscretions and would then resume the very busy business of making it work. I loved it! How this issue with Harrison ended up seeing the light of day, I don’t know…but never should have had the spirit still existed. I guess it takes “busy” to keep you so involved that you don’t have time for petty. (I did later end up at ORD for many delightful years of “busy” where there was just no time for petty.) …not sure what I just said…..

  13. Thank you Roger A for your thoughtful, experienced, and very educational response. We are told as pilots to listen and then anticipate ATC responses based on that exchange of communications including those communication being given to other pilots. I, too, have listened several times to this exchange. It was chopped by the mike control of the tower controller, combined with the word continue. Many of us would have done the same thing.

    The only difference I am not Harrison Ford. Had it been me, a non-event, with maybe a call to the tower. But with Harrison Ford, its viral YouTube video material. This situation appears to me to be nothing more than someone trying to capitalize on Harrison Ford’s fame.

  14. From the pilot-controller glossary: “CONTINUE− When used as a control instruction should be followed by another word or words clarifying what is expected of the pilot. Example: “continue taxi,” “continue descent,” “continue inbound,” etc.”

    What the controller did was to acknowledge Ford’s transmission that he was holding short at Hotel. Instead of saying “Roger”, the controller repeated his instruction to hold short, using “continue” (an approved term in this context) to preface the instruction. “Continue” sounds a lot different that “cross.”

    Note also that he gave an advisory, stating “traffic on the runway,” which told Ford why he was having to continue holding short.

    As for any delay in correcting Ford…the controller immediately told him to “get across the runway”, instead of telling him to stop. Evidently the controller felt that Ford could get across the runway in time to avoid the inbound aircraft.

    So…Ford was told to “hold short” and there was “traffic on the runway.” Those two verbal cues should have been more than enough to tell Ford that he wasn’t authorized to cross the runway.

    “I thought exactly the opposite, I’m terribly sorry.” He didn’t say “heard”, he said “thought.” It’ll be interesting to see what FAA says when they finish investigating this, but I’d hazard an opinion that this is a case of “assumption bias.” Was Ford expecting the next instruction to be “cross 25”? How many times (in life and not just in aviation) have we “heard” what we were expecting to hear instead of what was actually said?

    Finally, in response to the comments that this was a non-event and should not have seen the light of day…the controller had no choice but to report it. There’s good reason for it – the order re: MORs (JO 7210.632, look it up) states that runway incursions and surface incidents are two of the reasons that MORs have to be submitted. How else is FAA going to gather and analyze data regarding runway incursions and take action to help prevent them? From the sound of it, this will be a Class D incursion – “Category D is an incident that meets the definition of runway incursion such as incorrect presence of a single vehicle/person/aircraft on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft but with no immediate safety consequences.” “No harm, no foul”, but it’s a safety hazard nonetheless and needs to be analyzed and addressed.

    It’ll be interesting to see what the FSDO does about this. On one hand, it’s the lowest incursion classification. On the other, it’s twice in three years for him. Again, I don’t see that the controller did anything wrong. IMHO, Ford didn’t “mishear” the instruction, he made an assumption and acted on it. Unfortunately, he assumed wrong.

    • I’ll add one thing to this: “Position and hold” was once a valid phrase, that was changed to “line up and wait”, because (mostly foreign) pilots misinterpreted it to be “position and roll”.

      I have had controllers tell me to “continue” [doing nothing] (“continue holding”, etc), and other times to “continue” [doing something] (“continue inbound”, etc), both of them “approved” phraseology. And I have also at times misinterpreted what they meant (or was uncertain what they meant and asked for clarification) around the use of “continue”. In my opinion, you should never be told to “continue” a negative (like holding short, which is a “negative”: that is, holding short is essentially not doing anything). Maybe a phraseology change to “remain holding”, etc would be better, leaving “continue” for positives (flying inbound, crossing a runway, etc).

      My point being, the phraseology book has changed, and it will continue to change in the future.

  15. There were a lot of comments about the article regarding Cirrus’ plan to collect data on aircraft performance and, as a side benefit, the airmanship of the pilots, ostensibly to provide constructive feedback. Some commenters felt that this was an overreach. I would have to agree. You can see how even minor issues can get blown way out of proportion once data gets out of your control. This microscopic scrutiny of who is arguably one of GA’s most famous pilots shows how even small errors can be magnified into earth-shattering events if it’s a slow news day, or a particular media outlet has an agenda to push.
    This also points out the asymmetry of the scrutiny of events that occur in aviation. Scores of people die every day in auto traffic accidents with the only media response being to write about the effect on the traffic. One famous guy makes an error that any one of us could have made (and probably did) and it’s splashed all over the world.

  16. Respectfully disagree that runway incursions are a “minor issue” or a “small error.” Crossing a runway without permission is a MAJOR error, no matter who or what was responsible for it. Earth-shattering this time? No. Other times, yes. Regardless of the impact, incursions need to be investigated and the cause dealt with. Ignore this as a “minor issue” once? Let the same person or causal factor contribute to another incursion, this time with damage and fatalities, and then see what happens when it comes out that it could have been prevented.

  17. In the discussion about phraseology, there’s another clue that tells me that Ford fell victim to “assumption bias.” He didn’t read back what the controller said, “Continue holding short…” Ford said “Cross…” Big difference between the two words. He read back what he THOUGHT the controller was going to say. It’s not an issue about phraseology, it’s about his mindset that the next instruction he received would be to cross the runway.

    I had an airfield driving trainee do pretty much the same thing to me, and it almost caused a runway incursion. I was evaluating him to drive on a major airport while communicating with ATC on a complex large-hub airport (four parallel runways, two crosswinds, about a dozen parallels, and dozens more connectors). The controller instructed him to drive on a parallel taxiway up to and to hold short of a taxiway where he would have to turn right to cross a runway that was along the route he was taking to his destination. He read the instruction back correctly and stopped where instructed.

    In the meantime, the airport fire department had just completed a response drill. The command vehicle was returning to the fire station and called ground to cross the same runway that we were supposed to cross, at a different taxiway (out of our view) than what we were holding short of. The controller responded, “Fire **, cross Runway **.”

    My trainee heard the instruction intended for Fire ** and responded “Ops ** crossing Runway **.” Two things happened: I grabbed the steering wheel and yelled “STOP!” and the controller yelled “Ops **, STOP.”

    I had him return us to the classroom (he was pretty shaken up) and we debriefed. He admitted that he was ‘leaning forward in the straps,’ expecting to be told to cross the runway, and heard “Runway **” and THOUGHT he heard “Ops **.”

    I’ve even had driving trainees do a readback correctly and then drive the route that they THOUGHT they were going to be given (the complexity of the field means that there could be as many as five or six different routes a vehicle operator or pilot could be given to get from one point to another).

    I don’t hear any clues that tell me the controller’s phraseology was improper – Ford was given a clear, simple instruction, and he fell victim to his preconceived notion that his next instruction was going to be to cross the runway.