Flying ban eased on private planes, but some businesses still remain grounded

By Tom Harrigan The Associated Press
Tuesday October 23, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Before Sept. 11, Jerry Hider’s one-man, one-plane business was towing banners promoting products and entertainment over Los Angeles area beaches, stadiums and residential areas. 

Six weeks after the terrorist attacks, the federal government has begun lifting many restrictions on some private commercial aircraft, but not all.  

Hider believes it’s time the authorities let him get back into business. 

“Pulling banners along the beach from Malibu to Orange County used to be our main gig,” he said, estimating he has lost more than $5,000 in income since Sept. 11. 

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration lifted many restrictions on private planes equipped with transponders for five cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. 

San Diego airspace will be added on Tuesday for private planes observing visual flight rules, which are used by about 90 percent of the nation’s 500,000 private pilots. 

Some types of aircraft still face tight restrictions, however, including planes towing banners, which are not allowed within three miles of large gatherings. Sightseeing, TV news and traffic-reporting aircraft also are banned within 25 miles of major airports, as are airship blimps. 

Hider said the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Southern California Aerial Advertising Association are asking the FAA to loosen those restrictions. 

“I don’t see how having a Cessna 172 modified to tow banners and fly at only 50 miles an hour constitutes a terrorist threat,” he said. 

Threatening or not, one person who doesn’t miss the advertising aircraft is Charles Thompson, a spokesman for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. 

“Neighbors hate the planes,” he said. “They’re dangerous. They’ve almost flown into each other. They’re noisy, and no one pays attention to them.” 

The return of other general aviation aircraft to the nation’s skies was welcomed by Lt. Col. Bill Cowman of the California Civil Air Patrol Wing, with 6,000 members 

“It’s about time,” he said. “The flight restrictions have been a detriment to a lot of people in private aviation.” 

The loosening of post-Sept. 11 restrictions have allowed operations at Van Nuys Airport to return almost to normal.  

The San Fernando Valley facility, with its 1,200 to 1,500 arrivals and departures a day, is the nation’s busiest general aviation airport. 

Things are also getting back to normal at Santa Monica Airport, just eight miles north of Los Angeles International Airport. Eighty percent of the airport’s 500 planes were grounded until Monday. 

Not that the general aviation pilots allowed back into the air have the freedom they once had. 

“General aviation has been cautioned not to be doing loops or any other abnormal flying that would attract the attention of air controllers,” said FAA spokesman Mike Fergus. “The last thing they want to do is call for a DOD (Department of Defense) escort.”