Local News

House-Passed Bill Would Keep Child Pilots from Competition

Posted Updated

WASHINGTON (AP) — July 23, 1996 - 5:43 a.m. EDTBy DAVE SKIDMORE,Associated Press Writer

Three months after 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff died trying to become the youngest person to pilot an aircraft cross-country, Congress is moving to forbid a licensed pilot from turning over a plane's controls to a child trying to set such a record.

The House voted 395-5 and sent to the Senate on Monday a bill prohibiting anyone who does not hold a valid pilot's license and medical certificate from attempting to set a record or engaging in an aeronautical competition or feat. Seventeen is the minimum age for obtaining a pilot's license.

Licensed pilots who turn over the controls to a nonpilot trying to set a record would have their licenses revoked by the Federal Aviation Administration.

``We cannot legislate good judgment into the minds and hearts and souls of pilots but we can erect some strong barriers,'' said Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, the senior Democrat on the House Transportation Committee.

The bill was prompted by the death of Jessica, whose single-engine Cessna went down April 11 after takeoff in an icy rainstorm near Cheyenne, Wyo. Her father, Lloyd, and flight instructor, Joe Reid, died with her.

Jessica, of Pescadero, Calif., 40 miles south of San Francisco, attracted great publicity with her plans to fly from Half Moon Bay, Calif., to Falmouth, Mass. But after the crash critics questioned whether a child that age had the necessary skill and judgment for such a feat.

The bill, by Reps. John Duncan, R-Tenn., and William Lipinski, D-Ill., would still permit children to take a plane's controls - under the supervision of the pilot in charge and under circumstances other than a record attempt or competition.

``I think we have a balanced approach that focuses on the media-driven publicity stunts without imposing additional regulations or undue restrictions on the entire aviation community,'' said Duncan, chairman of the aviation subcommittee.

The FAA is directed within six months to complete a study of the impact of children flying aircraft. Many pilots begin taking lessons in their mid-teens. There have been 178 accidents since 1964 involving pilots younger than 17.

The House also approved two other aviation bills. One, passed 401-0, would require an airline, before hiring a pilot, to check the pilot's records, including proficiency tests, physical exams and drug and alcohol tests.

It was a Dec. 13, 1994, American Eagle crash in North Carolina, killing 15 people, that brought attention to the problem of airlines not sharing data on pilots.

The crash was blamed on pilot error. Investigators later determined that the pilot had been forced out of another airline, but American Eagle did not know that when it hired him.

``The pilot ... had a history of similar pilot errors,'' said Rep. Fred Heineman, R-N.C. ``If the pilot's training records had been shared, 15 people might not have died.''

Pilots would have the right to see their records and make corrections if they found errors.

The third bill, passed 400-0, would reauthorize funding in 1997, 1998 and 1999 for the National Transportation Safety Board. It includes a provision that would help the government collect flight-recorder data from normal flights in an attempt to uncover problems not normally found until after an accident. The provision empowers regulators to keep the normal-flight data confidential