Clearing the zone Blue Angels: FAA was correct to call attorney's bluff and require spectators out of restricted area.


THE FEDERAL Aviation Administration was right to nearly call off Wednesday's precision flying demonstration in Annapolis.

Though the cancellation of the Navy's Blue Angels would have upset crowds of spectators who gathered in the state capital and along the Severn River, the presence of people in the air show's restricted zone would have been ample justification.

Air shows are dangerous affairs. The public needs no more reminders of this. Just 24 hours before the Blue Angels' show, a stunt pilot died while performing before schoolchildren at the Manassas Regional Airport in Northern Virginia. In Carroll County, the airport is named for a local pilot, Jack Pogue, who died while executing a maneuver at an air show. Last fall, during an exhibition, an F-117A stealth fighter crashed in Bowleys Quarters in eastern Baltimore County. Fortunately, no one on the ground was hurt, and the pilot parachuted to safety, but fears led to a ban of high-speed jet maneuvers at future Chesapeake Air Shows at Martin State Airport.

During such shows, the FAA routinely restricts flying in the surrounding air space. To minimize risk, it also limits areas for spectators. These precautions are necessary and sensible.

In Annapolis, the "aerobatic box," or restricted zone, happened to include most of Washington attorney Brendan Sullivan's spacious lawn. Located across the Severn River from the U.S. Naval Academy, Mr. Sullivan's home affords front-row seats for the traditional Commissioning Week performance. Up until a half-hour before Wednesday's show, the attorney best known for representing Oliver L. North had refused to move.

Critics of the FAA's hard and fast stance were wrong. Had an accident caused injuries or death on the ground, the agency would have been pilloried for having foolishly bent to accommodate a powerful Washington lawyer. In the end, Annapolis enjoyed the annual air show -- after the FAA made the right call.

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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