Local News

Most Small Plane Pilots Still Forbidden To Fly

Posted September 19, 2001

— Commercial jets are filling the skies over North Carolina again, but only a few small planes are taking to the air. Most pilots of small planes rely more on their eyes than instruments and they are still forbidden to fly.

"We had a lot of freedom in this country to fly just about anytime, anywhere we wanted to go. We didn't have to talk to anyone and didn't have to be in radar control," says pilot Frank Kidd.

Most small plane pilots fly primarily by sight, not instruments, which is not allowed right now. In most cases, the only pilots allowed in the air can fly on instruments alone and agree to stick to a strict pre-approved course. It is called Instrument Flight Rule certification (IFR).

In a typical eastern North Carolina airport like Wilson, about 80 percent of the pilots are not cerfitied for IFR. It takes weeks of extra training and it can cost thousands of dollars per plane to upgrade the equipment.

Small businesses that depend on air travel are losing lots of money. Fuel sales are down 75 percent at the Wilson airport.

"Our fuel sales have been very low, no flight training whatsoever and maintenance, of course, if you can't get the aircrafts into the airport, you're not going to have maintenance to do," says airport operations manager Steve Moore.

Most expect the government to lift the ban in the next week or so, but it will not end there.

"[In the] long term, I think there will be some subtle changes and there will be restrictions, more restrictions on where we can go and when we can go," Kidd says.

Because of the agricultural growing season, the government has decided to lift the ban on cropduster planes.

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