Aviation writer Martha Lunken’s pilot certificates revoked


Lunken told AOPA on April 21 that “the FAA deserved to discipline me – and severely” for flying under the 239-foot-tall Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, which carries Interstate 71 over the Little Miami River in southwest Ohio and has 440-foot main spans.

The outspoken 98-pound aviator who delivered hundreds of checkrides to pilots of Douglas DC-3, Lockheed Model 18 Lodestars and Fairchild Swearingen Metroliners said the enforcement action had hit her hard. She did not agree with the administration’s action to revoke all of her pilot certificates, including her airline pilot certificate. The certificate revocation letter contained a sentence that Lunken could not be trusted to comply with aviation regulations, and it required that she reapply for flight privileges as a student, what she plans to do.

Lunken, who flies from a public airport bearing her last name, said she was “punching holes in the sky in my [Cessna] 180 and made some landings “on the Lumberton grass strip northeast of Cincinnati in March 2020. She was walking home to the Cincinnati Municipal Airport / Lunken Field when” I looked over my shoulder and j saw the bridge and said out loud, “My God, before I get too old, I have to fly under this bridge once.” “

Lunken said that “it was safe for anyone, but of course I knew it was illegal. But I did it anyway.

At six years old, $ 88 million building project recently propped up the busy interstate bridge.

Ian Arendt, AOPA Legal Services Plan Advocate recently wrote on FAR 91.119, the regulation which obliges pilots maintain a safe distance of any person, place or structure, in “congested” or “unencumbered” areas.

“She wouldn’t be the first person I spoke to who thought about flying under a bridge,” Arendt said.

In a congested area, pilots must fly “1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet from the aircraft” other than for take-off or landing. In a “non-congested area,” clearances are less, but Arendt reminded pilots that FAA regulations state that an aircraft cannot be operated less than 500 feet above the surface; and that “above ‘open water’ or a ‘sparsely populated area’ an aircraft may not be operated within 500 feet of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure.” In addition, he reiterated that pilots must “always maintain a sufficient altitude to avoid any undue danger to people or property on the surface in the event of an emergency landing”.

FAA describes reckless or reckless operation FAR 91.13. “If a pilot does something potentially dangerous like flying under an active bridge, the FAA may allege that you are endangering people driving on the bridge or people under the bridge doing recreational activities. The FAA may also allege that you risk damaging the bridge itself, ”Arendt said. “The potential endangerment of persons or property is sufficient to invoke a certificate action.”

The area under the bridge draws the public to hiking and biking trails, and the nearby river and streams are popular fishing spots. Lunken said she knew the area because she participated in outdoor activities there.

The Cessna 180’s transponder intermittently stopped shouting a code as it approached Cincinnati during the flight, and Lunken, a longtime FAA safety official, said she believed earlier landings in the day on the Lumberton grass strip had perhaps shaken his transponder. An Ohio Department of Transportation surveillance camera on the bridge captured an image of Lunken’s plane flying below. Lunken didn’t think much about it until the FAA contacted her weeks later.

At the time, she was in contact with an aviation lawyer, but did not hear “anything” for several months. “I know after about six months it’s kind of a deadline from the FAA when it comes to suspensions,” she said. “Every day I would look in the mailbox and think, ‘Is this here?’ In March [2021], a year and a week after the event, there is a large box on my porch with radar tracks, “other evidence, and” a letter from the FAA with an emergency revocation of all my pilot certificates “inside.

“As soon as Martha heard about it, she let us know,” said Flying Editor-in-chief of Julie Boatman magazine. “She has been upfront with us about this from day one. The magazine posted a note on her Facebook site which admitted that Lunken had made an “error in judgment” and that she “will work to restore her flight status in the future”.

“It makes you feel like you are nothing,” Lunken said. “I can’t describe the hole in me. It’s my life.”

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