FAA Revokes Pilot Certificates For Red Bull Plane Swap Stunt (Updated)

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The FAA has revoked the pilot certificates of Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington following their highly publicized attempt to “take off in one aircraft and land in another after sending their planes into a nosedive and jumping out of them” last month. The attempt ended with Aikins successfully making the swap while Farrington parachuted to the ground when one of the aircraft spiraled out of control and crashed. No one was injured in the stunt, which was put on by Red Bull and livestreamed by Hulu.

“The FAA revoked the pilot certificates of the two pilots involved in the unauthorized Red Bull plane swap stunt on April 24, 2022, in Arizona,” the agency said in a statement. “The attempted stunt resulted in the crash of one of the two single-engine Cessna 182 aircraft. The lead pilot requested an exemption for the stunt from the FAA, which the agency denied.”

As previously reported by AVweb, the request denied by the FAA was made by Aikins and asked for an exemption from regulations prohibiting required crewmembers from leaving their stations while an aircraft is in flight. Aikins, who served as project lead and chief pilot for the Red Bull Plane Swap, claimed responsibility for moving forward with the stunt in a statement posted on Instagram. He also noted that he had not shared information regarding the denied exemption with his team.

The FAA’s emergency revocation orders require Aikins and Farrington to surrender their certificates immediately. Neither one will be able to apply for or be issued new airman certificates for a year. The agency has also proposed a $4,932 fine for Aikins for the violation of three regulations—14 CFR 91.105(a) regarding required flight crew members remaining at their stations, 91.113(b) regarding the duty of the pilot to see and avoid other aircraft and 91.13 regarding not operating an aircraft in a careless and reckless manner.

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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63 COMMENTS

  1. $4,932 fine?

    Where does this number come up?

    It’s like a 17.46 MPH speed limit.

    I figured they would lose their tickets. Not saying it’s wrong or right (it seems complicated) but I’m not surprised.

    • Is it complicated though? They knew this pointless stunt was in violation of the regulations, which is why they sought a waiver. The waiver was denied. They did it anyway. It’s hard to think of a more obvious case of willful violation of regulations. Their flying privileges are contingent on following the rules.

      • It is complicated, though. The FAA regulations are intended to keep people safe, especially the general public. There was nobody at risk in this situation save the two pilots, therefore there was no violation of any intent of any regulation. This is very similar to ultralights, if you’re not affecting anyone’s safety but your own, who cares? That’s not the FAA’s responsibility.

        • Considering the regs that the FAA cited as being violated, I can understand the FAA’s perspective that other aircraft and occupants could have been endangered. I believe the FAA’s argument is that in leaving their duty stations these two pilots recklessly neglected their duties to see and avoid other aircraft.

        • “Nobody at risk save the two pilots” — are you sure? They didn’t have the airspace closed (or any ability to close it), and I believe it’s actually the case that a training flight flew through the vicinity during the stunt. I believe it’s also the case that they didn’t notify ATC of hazardous activity in the area.

        • Amazing pretzel-logic. “Nobody at risk…”??? How could you, or anyone else, for that matter, KNOW that, BEFORE the fact? There was no way to know no one would be hurt it things went wrong. It’s too easy to pontificate, now that it’s over.

          Your “ultralight” comment is equally specious – anything that goes up WILL come down, and if it does so out of control, it could quite easily “affect someone elses’ safety”.

          Regs are regs, and they don’t have any clauses saying that as long as what you do won’t affect anyone’s safety, you can ignore them. Ignore them at your own peril, as these guys learned the hard way.

    • They didn’t care, because in their minds, they would achieve their goal in completing the transfer. I am not sure if Aikens told his stunt partner about the revocation. Looking at both being revoked, I would think they both knew, and still thought it was worth it, for the notoriety they believed it would bring them….the wrong notoriety is what they ended up with. To them, it is most likely worse than their tickets being revoked.

    • Few marketing people have brains.
      (I’ve worked with some who did, as colleague and as customer.)
      Some of course are slime, like the Collins person our staff called ‘Charlie Tuna’ for trying to hook people.
      The rest are fools.

      So ‘Red Bull’ waved a red flag at a huge bull? 😉

    • As well they should be. Red Bull markets to the young and rebellious. The extra ink generated by their battle with “the man” is a bonus. The small chunk of aviation buff naysayers simply won’t hurt their bottom line as much as the stunt will improve it.

  2. I think they both should be banned for life. An aircraft was destroyed in this stunt. Apparently they both have no regard for themselves or others. Getting my ticket was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I try just as hard to keep it. These clowns couldn’t care less.

    • Your quote Karrpilot – “Getting my ticket was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.”
      Just wondering how many other pilots would say that.
      I’m saying this as I thought it was fun – what was so HARD about about it?
      Again – just sayin

    • “An aircraft was destroyed in this stunt.”

      What a stupid comment. I’ve heard others say the same thing. Who cares if they destroyed an aircraft? It was their property! In a country with individual liberty, one can (or at least should be able to) do whatever one wants with one’s own property.

      Also, you act like others should behave in a certain way because of an attitude you have about something you did. “It was hard for me; therefore, others should treat it with more respect.” Oh, brother.

    • Me, too, Karrpilot. And I’ve worked hard to keep MY proverbial ‘nose’ clean for more than 50 years … successfully. I have Master Mech and Master
      Pilot awards for those efforts. People like this make all of us look bad.

  3. THEIR aircraft was destroyed… Not yours. Thank God the FAA didn’t ban evil Evil Kneivals licence for doing stunts that didn’t hurt anyone else either…. Everyone in such an uproar over someone else’s personal choice and risk taking. With no danger to anyone else…. Liberally pathetic.

    • Safety consciousness is a political position? C’mon. While it’s true the Red Bull team took some steps in the name of safety, the pilots abrogated control of the situation once they jumped. I don’t understand why Red Bull couldn’t have accomplished its goal with this stunt by simply leaving a safety pilot aboard each plane. It could have claimed the rights to an aviation first while providing a good example to the aspiring aviators it claims it hoped to inspire.

      • Their stuff… Yep.

        Their lives… nope… Their stunt had potential to end someone else’s life had another aircraft fly through the unprotected airspace. Why do you think firefighting TFRs are established over remote and uninhabited country? It’s to protect the public as well as the firefighting aircraft. Had they requested a TFR then the risk to others would have been minimized. But, wait… The FAA would have to be notified if they asked for a TFR so they (like the dufus who faked a powerplant problem) decided to go ahead anyhow. The RedBull guys are clearly very smart (but, at the same time surprisingly stupid) guys filled with self important hubris. Those pilots clearly knew the risks of blowing off the FAA’s denial, and if they didn’t, they were even more stupid and careless than their foolishness suggests. If they really were as smart at they thought they were the RedBull organizaers would have gone to Mexico and posed the question of the Mexican equivalent of the FAA perhaps the answer would have been different… as I’ve read it was with a 737 crashed for kicks. Better yet, planning the operation well off shore in international waters where the NAS isn’t relevant and the FAA would have had no say regarding their attempt their pointless stunt.

    • Yes, there are many yahoos about, like idiot Kneivel, and boozing idiots who like the [performances]. Trash.

      (Knievel lived long enough to die of respiratory disease, probably with many broken bones along the way.)

    • I don’t understand how this is a liberal thing. There are rules we all agreed to. Not only did they knowingly violate the rules, they asked permission to do so, were told no, and did it anyway.

      Whether the rules are “right” or not is irrelevant–they exist and we’re bound by them. Your political leaning doesn’t give you a choice of which rules to follow, it gives you the opportunity to change them. So change them, follow them, or shut up.

      • To me, this stunt was a classic example of the breakdown of the rule of law. My father-in-law hated seatbelts, but he wore them without fail, because, he said, it was the law.

        These two guys essentially said, “We’ll do whatever we want, and the hell with the law and regulations. We make up our own.”

  4. I think the punishment fits the crime. One year and you have to earn it back. They didn’t mean to destroy the plane. For us this is an interesting example of the requirement to knowing all facts prior to a flight: In Andy’s case seeing the approval letter with his own eyes (if in fact it was withheld from him). Trust but verify or lose your ticket.

    I’d love to know whose plane got destroyed. I presume the insurance will wash its hands of that one.

  5. I’ve still not seen an accurate description of exactly where the airplane exit took place, or how “near” the town of Eloy the one airplane crashed. Abandoning the aircraft at 12,000 feet, there may have been a significant amount of “persons and property on the ground” within the potential footprint of an out-of-control Cessna 182.

    • Precisely, Tom. People commenting that it’s a free country and it was “their” airplane(s) to destroy totally miss the point AND would be humming a different tune if they lived nearby and their property were impacted or — worse — a family member were injured or killed by an unpiloted Skylane. This “liberty” stuff has gone far enough. Their stunt was stupid, served no purpose other than notoriety and entertainment for some and the FAA said “no.” Which part of that didn’t Aikins understand? And were I Mr. Farrington, I’da said … “Show me the authorization.” He oughta be grounded for a period of time too.

      I worked for over three decades in flight test at Edwards AFB. There are plenty of instances were the absolute best in-depth safety and operational planning went awry and people, property or machines went ‘off the reservation’ instead of the way it was planned. Like, for instance, the time we fired 30 rounds out of an A-10 into a bullet catcher inside a test hangar and one of the rounds decided that it didn’t like being warmed up from -60deg (sic) and shot two holes thru a thick hangar door when it shattered. These guys found that out the hard way. If Martha Lunken lost her certificates for — supposedly — turning off her ADS-B or flying under a bridge without harming others, these guys oughta get a three year suspension. BOTH of them are culpable IMHO.

      Red Bull — itself — ought to get a MAJOR fine … maybe $1M for sponsoring this nutty endeavor. THAT’d put some salt on their “wings.”

      AND … by extrapolation … what is the FAA gonna do if an unpiloted eVTOL or other machine goes rogue? Who loses their certificates then ?

      Botom line. As pilots we were taught from day one that safety is paramount. It’s drilled into our heads at every juncture. These guys ignored it; in Aikins case, blatantly. Shame on him.

        • To understand liberty you have to first have liberty.
          Better to ask forgiveness than permission.
          In the future they should “just do it” and then it would be up to the FAA to prove “reckless” (to which Red Bull can present more than enough evidense to show it was not).

      • “If Martha Lunken lost her certificates for — supposedly — turning off her ADS-B or flying under a bridge without harming others, these guys oughta get a three year suspension. BOTH of them are culpable IMHO.” SLAM DUNK!!!

        • RAF, there’s a great hour long interview with Martha on Social Flight on YouTube. She’s a kinda cool older gal who has flown for over 50 years, served AND worked FOR the FAA and they took all her certificates away. Watch the video … your eyes will be opened.

          Google social flight and Martha Lunkin.

      • “ People commenting that it’s a free country and it was “their” airplane(s) to destroy totally miss the point AND would be humming a different tune if they lived nearby and their property were impacted”

        That argument could be made for any aircraft incident in which there was a smoking hole, or potential for a smoking hole.

  6. Note addressing of the letter two apparently two address for Luke Aikins, via several paths – FAA trying to ensure no excuse that the perps did not receive it.

    (An evil relative refused delivery of a registered letter that the PO said was in the morning, in late afternoon her toadie spouse left a voice mail for me saying the refusal had just occurred – yet they had obviously prepared a statement.)

  7. There is an old maxim that “laws are written in blood”, reflecting the fact that a great many of society’s rules are the result of injury at the hands of others. “Your right to swing your fist stops at my nose” is another way of viewing this. These are lessons learned in daycare/preschool by most children, whined about by adolescents, and flouted by so many “freedom-loving” adults these days.

    I was having a conversation with a dive instructor the other day. He has no Federal Underwater Agency to deal with, no labyrinthine library of regulations he has to follow, only the recommendations and approval of any of several professional diving associations. Becoming equipped and certified to dive can occur in a weekend at a cost that wouldn’t cover the fuel for a C-152 to take a student pilot to learn to keep the dirty side down, much less solo. It’s roughly equivalent to replacing the FAA with a collection of AOPA, EAA, SSA, BFA, et al. organizations. My friend has no mandatory retirement age, much less regular physical fitness examinations.

    Is flying more dangerous that diving? It’s hard to make that case. Yes, you can still breathe while you plummet to earth, but there is nothing in the air that would consider you tasty, either. Yet there is a huge bureaucracy regulating everything about going aloft in even the simplest of vehicles.

    One significant difference is that we don’t cruise to Europe in submarines. There is no underwater carriage industry requiring an infrastructure that needs close scrutiny to ensure public safety. Aside from certain dangerous underwater vocations covered by OSHA (and the occasional interest of the DEA) the Feds are rarely involved in recreational diving activities.

    So while we bemoan a regulatory agency that requires that a qualified crew-member remain at the aircraft controls at all times, how is that plane-swap stunt any different from someone intentionally dropping a one-ton gasoline-filled bomb? Was any effort made to ensure range safety? Was fire suppression arranged? Was there any consideration of possible danger to persons or property on the ground?

    It looks to me that system almost worked the way it should: they applied for a waiver and it was reasonably denied. The willful disregard of which should have been a permanent revocation of all of their flying credentials, on the basis of a flagrant lack of the judgement necessary to be a pilot.

    Let them take up scuba-diving.

    • “Is flying more dangerous that diving? It’s hard to make that case.”

      It’s an intriguing question but I can make the case. DAN typically reports around 125 dive fatalities a year with 2.6 million participants. On a fatality per participant basis, that’s 4.8/100,000. By comparison, general aviation has about 500,000 active pilots. If we look at just the pilots themselves–every fatal accident kills just one–then the participant rate is 42/100,000. Not quite an order of magnitude greater for GA.

      DAN estimates five dives per year for U.S. divers, so call a dive an hour of exposure for 13 million dives. On that basis, the dive fatal rate is 0.96/100,000. Curiously, that’s about what the GA fatal rate is. But if dives are longer than that, it would lower. Hard to compare the two.

      My guess is diving is more inherently risky, but less actually risky because of equipment and training. GA, in my view, is the reverse. that.

      • As a long-time SCUBA diver, I found the comparison interesting. I agree diving is probably inherently riskier, but the dangers presented are so up-close and personal that more, and more consistent, attention to them is paid by the participants. Aviation simply offers us a richer variety and frequently more subtle ways to screw up.

        • Last month, a skydiver friend of mine who’s also a diver told me about a bizarre near fatal. He volunteers at an aquarium where they do maintenance dives in a big tanks. They’re pretty safety conscious.

          One of the divers checked her gear, tested the regulator for flow, then shut it off until the dive started later. She forgot to turn it back on. When she jumped into the tank, straight to the bottom with no air and, of course, no buoyancy vest. He said they just managed to save her from drowning.

          In a fish tank.

          • About 15 years ago up N at my summer location on a small airstrip, we were having a pre-Airventure party. Someone handed me the keys to a 150 so I decided to become a hotdog and do a slow low pass. Unfortunately, that plane had a problem and wasn’t producing enough power. When I applied full power, there wasn’t any more “go” left. With tall trees coming at me, I couldn’t get above them. I clearly remember thinking to myself that of all the airplanes not to eat it in was a 150. I milked it up and resolved to never do that again. Learning point.

            Bob Hoover once commented that you could kill yourself just as dead in a Cub (like yours) as a high performance jet. 😵‍💫

    • As a certified SCUBA instructor, it is my opinion that if I screw the pooch while diving solo (the best way to dive), I ain’t gonna crash “nose down” into a school bus full of nuns with penguins on their laps. Sure, the personal risk may be on par or even greater to the diver vs the pilot, but the potential consequences to other people’s life and property are nil. Besides, I am still waiting for Put Another Dollar In (PADI) to come up with yet another “specialty” certification that separates Open Water from Advanced because they suddenly decide that Open Water is only good down to -30′ MSL and to go deeper a diver will need an “Intermediate” certification.

  8. I thought the $4,932.00 figure for the fine strange at first also. So, with too much time on my hands presently from a recent surgery, my mind wandered…
    and eventually it dawned on me that maybe the FAA deserves extra credit in this case for creativity, as was skillfully employed in my case of – ‘The Tower Light Fiasco.’

    Years ago I needed to take a light signal test for my 3rd class medical. Appointment was made, and the local FISDO set everything up. Place set and time of test was 11:45am, stand right here, (no, Here!) face this way, and look up at tower. Top of the tower housing the light beacon was directly between me and our local star – CAVU sky. No sunglasses allowed. I saw retina flashes for days after that experience and still couldn’t tell green from white.

    Knowing I had two chances to test I ended the torture and rescheduled later somewhere else and was successful. I had the legal services plan with AOPA at the time and they seemed incredulous about it, and, after letters went back and forth for a month all was cleared up to everyone’s satisfaction. Thanks again, guys.

    So, this oddball dollar figure got me thinking, the FAA must have discovered that 3 20oz Original RB’s per day are needed to be consumed to push a man, any man, into the necessary altered state to break the law and attempt frivolous stunts like the one in subject. Therefore, to keep Aikins from being able to try something like that stunt again with RB products for at least a year until he can re-apply for his certificate, it all became clear.

    3 20oz Original RB’s, at an average price of about $4.50ea is about $13.51 a day, times 365 days comes to just about nearly exactly $4,932.00.

    I’m sure I would have seen their clever plan earlier like the rest of you’all no doubt did if not for the fog of these pain meds…

  9. So: next time either

    1. don’t ask permission beforehand

    OR

    2. Don’t do it where FAA has jurisdiction. I believe 12+ miles off the coast may qualify, as would anywhere else in the world.

    BONUS: if over deep enough water the crashed (ditched?) plane not worth recovering.

    Just sayin…

  10. You might be upset with pilots not following the rules, and maybe rightly so.

    But then again, don’t be upset when drone operators delivering sandwiches follow the rules and then complain about it.