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EDITORIAL : DEADLY GAME OF CHICKEN; IS THE PUBLIC ADEQUATELY PROTECTED FROM PILOTS WHO ARE PRONE TO ACTS OF RECKLESSNESS?

WHEN residents around Van Nuys Airport start screaming the sky is falling, federal regulators should take heed. They're not just crying wolf.

Troubling questions regarding air safety around Van Nuys Airport are emerging following Tuesday's fatal crash of a small plane into a Reseda home.

Federal investigators began sifting through debris to determine whether mechanical failure or pilot error caused 66-year-old Reiner Bey's single-engine plane to sputter and then dive into the home of Nate and Carol Peiman, killing Bey and his wife.

For residents, the findings seem immaterial. The real concern is how a pilot prone to taking reckless chances can take off before the tower opens so he can avoid being grounded.

The answer by officials is woefully inadequate.

Bey was not qualified to fly in overcast conditions but nonetheless left Van Nuys in foul weather on his way to Minnesota for prostate cancer surgery. As he had done in the past, he simply took off from Van Nuys Airport before the control tower opened at 6 a.m. to avoid being questioned.

``Frequently, he left at 5 a.m. when the tower was closed so he could take off,'' said Peter Bludau, a pilot who has flown with Bey and sells planes at the airport. ``Otherwise, he wasn't qualified to fly and he would have to sit down here and wait for the weather to clear.''

Even more disturbing news is that even if the tower had been open, there was no way to prevent Bey from taking off, said airport manager Ronald Kochevar.

At best, a pilot might be deterred from making such an unlicensed flight if he knew the Federal Aviation Administration officials in the tower would report it, a violation that can cost a pilot his license, Kochevar said.

Since there aren't enough regulators in the world to question and review the qualifications of every pilot taking off and landing in the U.S., federal regulators must frequently rely on the common sense and truthfulness of pilots to patrol the skies.

For the most part, the system works, officials argue.

That's just not good enough, especially not at the world's busiest general aviation airport which is right in the middle of a city.

Tuesday's fatal crash was the third since 1996 involving planes landing or taking off at Van Nuys Airport.

Since the general aviation airport handles some 500,000 takeoffs and landings each year, obviously the potential for more deadly accidents to occur is real.

The Peimans luckily escaped with their lives. Residents near the airport like them deserve more than a shrug-of-the-shoulders attitude from federal regulators. At the very least, they have a right to know that proper safeguards are in place to protect them from pilots who act irresponsibly.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 18, 1998
Words:458
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