Harrison Ford mistakenly flies plane over airliner at California airport
Actor Harrison Ford can continue to fly without restriction despite narrowly missing a jetliner carrying 100 passengers and landing his small plane on the wrong stretch of tarmac at John Wayne Airport in Orange County in February.
A Federal Aviation Administration investigation concluded that no enforcement action was warranted in the incident. The agency required only "awareness training," which Ford has already completed.
FAA officials said Monday they could not discuss a case involving specific individuals, and would not reveal the nature of the instruction Ford received.
The agency has the power to yank a license or impose other tough penalties when a pilot violates regulations, but in recent years has preferred corrective action, experts said.
Any suggestion that Ford received celebrity treatment is incorrect, said his attorney, Stephen Hofer.
"I'm firmly convinced thatorney, Stephen Hofer.
"I'm firmly convinced that he did not receive any sort of special treatment or consideration," he said.
Hofer added that he sat in on several hours of meetings with Ford, during which the agency went over radar data, videos of the landing and recordings of tower communications.
"The FAA investigators thought Ford was candid and forthright,' Hofer said. "In closing the matter, the agency acknowledged Mr. Ford's long history of compliance with the federal aviation regulations and his cooperative attitude during the investigation."
Ford will retain his pilot's certificate without restriction.
Hofer noted that his client has held a pilot's certificate for more than 20 years, has logged more than 5,000 hours in the air, and has never been the subject of an FAA administrative or enforcement action.
Ford, 74, who is known for his roles in the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" movies, has volunteered his time and name to aviation programs, such as the Young Eagles organized by the Experimental Aircraft Assn. Hofer declined to elaborate on the awareness training.
Ford landed his single-engine Aviat Husky on Taxiway C at midday Feb. 13 after being cleared by air traffic control to use runway 20L. Before touching down, he flew very close to an American Airlines Boeing 737 waiting on another taxiway for instructions to take off.
Recorded communications between Ford and air traffic controllers reveal that the actor was apologetic and embarrassed by his dangerous landing error.
"I'm the schmuck who landed on the taxiway," Ford told the tower after touching down. "I was distracted by the airliner, which was in movement when I turned to the runway, and also the wake turbulence from the landing Airbus."
The FAA released the audio recordings in response to nine Freedom of Information Act requests from news media.
According to the recordings, air traffic control cautioned Ford during his approach to maintain his separation from an incoming Airbus jetliner because of possible wake turbulence. Such turbulence behind an airplane is especially hazardous during takeoffs and landings.
Ford acknowledged the presence of the Airbus.
As he landed, the Husky flew low over American Airlines Flight 1459 with more than 100 people aboard.
"Was that airliner meant to be underneath me?" Ford asked the tower.
The air traffic controller answered that the Boeing 737 was holding short of the runway and advised Ford that he landed on Taxiway Charlie.
"I landed on Taxiway Charlie?" Ford responded.
When instructed to continue on the taxiway and hold short of Taxiway H, Ford told the controller, "Oohhh. I landed on Taxiway Charlie. I understand now. Sorry for that."
A member of the tower staff asked Ford for his contact information and pilot's license number to forward them to the FAA's flight safety office for possible investigation.
"I understand," Ford answered. "I totally understand."
After the incident, Michael Barr, a senior instructor at the University of Southern California's Aviation Safety and Security Program, told the Los Angeles Times that landing on a taxiway "is a very, very high risk situation."
"If he stalled, there would have been a catastrophic result," Barr said. "He flew over a packed airliner."
Concerned about Ford's landing, Edward Patton, the captain of the waiting American Airlines jet, contacted air traffic control and discussed the incident with Irene Willard, the tower manager.
According to audio recordings of the conversation, Patton mentioned that the tail of his aircraft is 42 feet high. "You get an idea how close we were," he said.
Willard told him there was less than 100 feet of separation between the airplanes. "It was not a good position for him (Ford) to be in," she said.
The taxiway landing is one of several mishaps and accidents Ford has experienced as a pilot.
While training with an instructor in 1999, Ford made a hard landing in a helicopter near Santa Clarita while practicing auto-rotations, an emergency technique. The aircraft rolled over on its left side after coming down in a dry riverbed. No one was hurt.
A year later, the actor was landing his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza in Lincoln, Neb., when he ran off the runway because of a strong gust of wind. Neither Ford nor his passenger was hurt. The aircraft sustained minor damage.
In March 2015, Ford crashed on the Penmar Golf Course in Santa Monica after his World War II military trainer lost power because of a carburetor problem. The actor sustained serious injuries, and the two-seat Ryan Recruit was heavily damaged.