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Incident in Tampa? Opinions on kid pilot

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Well-known member
Nov 26, 2001
I have thought a bit about the incident in Tampa and was wondering what you folks think. In my state, to get a learner's permit one must be sixteen and to get a license one must be 16 and a half. I am interested to see what others think of perhaps having something similar in aviation, whereby to even take flying lessons one must be 16 and then be licensed at 17 as always. At my home airport, I know of a 12 year old boy who takes flying lessons with an instructor and his father pays for all this. To be honest, I cannot understand spending the money on flying lessons for someone so young when they cannot solo for another four years. I could see starting lessons a month or so before the 16th birthday, but age 12????? I wasn't impressed with the Jessica (I think that was her name--she died in the Cardinal and was quite young--I don't remember all the details) accident either. What do you think, if anything, should be done about "kid pilots"?
I think it's a very rare case when someone younger than 15 or 16 begins taking lessons. I'd bet that most of the time, the instructor would explain to the parent why early lessons wouldn't be productive. The aviation record keeping organizations like the FAI and Guinness have already banned record categories for underage "pilots". That will prevent the kind of media-driven pressure that killed Jessica Dubroff and her instructor.
Thank you Eagle RJ, for letting us know that Guinness and the FAI do not allow records for underage pilots. That is a positive step. It is unfortunate that Jessica and her instructor had to lose their lives in pursuit of such a record. Thanks for a well written reply. I'll be interested to learn of others' experiences or thoughts on this subject.

Fly safe!

Yeah, but when your learning to drive a car, you're instructor doesn't have the ability to take over control at anytime the student does something unsafe. Sure, they may have a foot brake on their side, however, they can't get full control easily. In the aircraft the CFI can gain total control of the aircraft; however much the student screws up nothing will happen if the instructor takes over in time.
I started flying lessons when I was 15 and had 6 months or so before my 16th bithday.

I soloed on my birthday and I was also ready for my private checkride as well BUT, I think the only reason this was so was that my dad being a pilot and an instructor had alot to do with it, I might add my dad was not my instructor.

I had grown up around airplanes and always was hanging out at the airport.

I would encourage anybody to do the same, I think it teaches young people something about responsibilty.

This obviously impressionable kid in TPA should't have been no where near an airport, maybe some people like his PARENTS didn't pick up on some warning sighns.

Maybe if he had not commited harry carry (sp) on the building in TPA, he might have done it in his high school.

Thank god he didn't take anybody out with him.
I started spending time around airplanes when thirteen or fourteen (don't recall), and started flight training in earnest at fifteen. I soloed at sixteen, private at seventeen, commercial at eighteen, and began crop dusting right after high school.

Age is not relevant to flying.

The incident with Jessica Dubroff was more than age; it was an instructor who cowed to the father who paid for the venture, a little girl caught in the middle, an increadibly stupid decision to depart following an ice storm in freezing conditions that other pilots at the field refused to fly in, and the pressure of a media hungry for one more story.

Then again, there is no relationship between the Dubroff Incident, and this event. One involved a minor caught in a situation of which she had no control, and the incident in Tampa involves a minor taking much more control than his due.

The FBI released information stating that this minor left a note expressing sympathy for Bin Ladin, and support for the Sept 11th attacks. The boy was making a statement, however misguided.

Unfortunately, regardless of who flew the airplane, or their age, the fact remains that this could very easily have happened in earnest. Not a kid running into a plate glass window, but someone serious filling the airplane with semtex and running it into that building in the morning hours when the office was full. After strict control measures were put in place, nothing was ever followed up. The airspace system was returned to normal, and this is crystal clear evidence of the potential. Forget the public passion; we know it's true, and here we sit.

If we are to survive as an industry, the push must come internally to prevent such occurances. This didn't amount to much, but it could have. Perhaps the boy did us a favor. I'm deeply dismayed by the public apathy (in and out of the industry) over Sept 11th; lots of flag waving going on out there in a knee-jerk fashion, but little common sense. Folks have already forgotton, are already decrying security efforts. Here we have a gift; a reminder that the threat is real; we need to do something about it.

You're going to see this material again. A crash occured, some glass was broken, a boy took his life. Too naive to do any real damage, we have been fortunate. But it will happen again, and when it does, it won't be a kid making a sad mistake early in life. It may be in earnest, or at least appear in earnest, and when it does it's going to hurt every one of us. It's going to cut this industry, and it's going to damage the little people, the FBO's, the schools, everyone. In short, our roots. We can't afford to let that happen.

Doubtless the instructor who let the boy on the ramp without being there is kicking himself right now. I've seen so many instructors tell their student to go preflight, and failing to go through it with the student. I can tell you that no matter how much experience a student has, and no matter how many times I've flown with a student, I still walk throught he preflight with the student, every time. So should this instructor. He'd have been right there.

I suspect that there was a communication breakdown between instructor and student. How well did the CFI know his charge, his client? Did he know the students goals, desires, thoughts, feelings, and to some extent, emotional state? If he was a good teacher, he should have. Recognizing that there are a lot of instructors out there, and not so many teachers, we need teachers. People who care, who are there for their students, who revolve around the client. That will make a big difference. It always has.

We need to be more conscious about teaching people to fly. For many years we've hungrily jumped on every soul to call or walk through the door, much like providing weapons training to every person off the street. We have a responsibility to not only teach to the best of our ability and to share, but to share with some degree of intelligence. I've turned people away because I didn't care for their reasoning, purpose, or actions. In a few cases, I couldn't explain why, but I'v suggested they find someone else with whom to fly. To continue teaching them would be irresponsible. I doubt any of them were terrorists, and such folks have been rare, but I've met a few. One was a fifteen year old boy, and much as I believe aviation starts with youth, I soloed him, and finally determined that he wouldn't continue with me.

Better control measures are not only a good idea for general aviation, but essential. Cry freedom, but it's not about that. We can still have freedom, but there are measures that can be taken to increase security and stability. If we don't do this, we're going to see Saturday's events taken in earnest. Perhaps today, perhaps a year from now, but it's going to happen. Much like an engine failure; it's not a matter of if, but when. It will happen.

A nationally registered identification system, with proper checks and verifications, including a picture ID that is tamper resistant and difficult to reproduce is a start. The filing of flight plans for training flights and specific operations is another. The participation with ATC for operations in or near terminal areas, and the use of designated training areas and corridors, is important.

Aircraft involved in frequent VFR operations of a specific nature should be tagged with a flight plan on file in an easily accessible data base, and a uniform specific code. For example, flying fire, we used 1255. Everyone used 1255, but if several aircraft are performing a job using that code, and one suddenly deviates without control or warning, then observation facilities have an idea that it is acting outside it's permissible or intended purpose. action can be taken. In such a case, everyone involved is an old hand and well known, but the same can be applied to flight instruction.

In the case of this boy, he was allowed to go anywhere under t he current airspace situation. Perhaps not himself, but it's not uncommon to see an airplane bust class B or C without talking, or by mistake, and despite the proof of reality of sept 11th, folks are still loathe to believe it will happen again. However, if the flight required a specific code for that operation, and wasn't squawking it, then illicit purpose could be determined earlier on.

That's not a be-all/end-all, but it's part of a much larger system of coding, identifying, and more properly separating and observing that can work for our benifit. If we don't take it upon ourselves to better monitor our environment (prevent fifteen year old kids from taking off in front of us when they're out responsibilty, is a good start), and then as an industry develop better standards for monitoring and control, we're going to get hurt, and so will a lot of other people.

Sorry about the boy, but terrorists around the world start around age five and work up. Soldiers in foriegn lands must put up with children holding grenades or satchel charges, and it doesn't matter if that person is six years old or thirty six; they're still a threat. Hard to accept in our society, but that's reality in the world today. Folks may be worried about turning into a state of zion with the fears and threats...but in case nobody noticed, we're there. The challenge is to prevent it from going further, and some simple steps like instructors watching their students, better policing of the industry, and the ability to take these events seriously for the manifestations they really are, will go a long way.
After reading your statement, I have mixed feelings.
I agree that we need to work from within to clean up the percieved threat from GA. If we don't, public opinion (bolstered in the media) will put pressure on the government to shut it down.
On the other hand, I don't think we should go overboard. Though this clearly showed our vulnerability, it was an isolated incident. There was a clear breakdown in the checks and balsnces that normally would have prevented this. Namely, lack of supervision by the CFI and a lack of "knowing" the student. But I'm not here to point fingers.
The bottom line is that the only way to make 100% sure this will never happen again is to totally ban GA from congested areas. I'm not willing to do that. We accept risk to live in a free society. I'm willing to accept some risk in order to be free. Let's be careful but reasonable and prudent in maintaining security.
Kid Pilot

I remember the Jessica Dubroff incident well. It happened where I live, and shouldn't have happened. Of course, the CFI should have stood up to Dad.

I agree with Eagle RJ that under-16 students are rarities. In CAP cadets take orientation flights. In our CAP wing we had a cadet solo encampment. Of course, these kids were over 16. Other than that, I really haven't encountered that many people who started flying seriously when they were under 16. I'd opine that money, school and other things limit the number of kids who actually start flying when they're under 16.

The CFI and the school will undoubtedly suffer some intense scrutiny for this Tampa incident. So will GA. The public, which doesn't know any better and believes, by and large, that aviation is an arcane, esoteric black art, will agitate Congress restrict GA. Congress, which also doesn't know any better, will try to pass such laws. Hopefully, AOPA will step up to the plate and try to enlighten Congress and the public that these were isolated incidents and limit their impact on GA.
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Avbug: I don't see how any of the measures you suggest are going to stop this sort of thing from happening in the future. A discrete code wouldn't have helped, ATC knew something was wrong for the very beginning of the flight. The filling of flight plans wouldn't have stopped the kid either. National ID card? The even if they checked his ID he was authorized to be out there on the ramp with the aircraft. I'm agree with IFF, pilots and the public are going to have to take a certain amount of risk. Nothing can be made risk free.

I do agree that the problem lies more with the parents, and maybe the instructor. As with most kids the commit suicide, some adult usually knows there was a problem, they just choose not to act. The instructor also should have caught on that the student had problems, but without knowing the exact situation I don't think that we can say he screwed up. The student hadn't flown that many hours at the school.
I would have to think any kid starting to take flying lesson from 15 or younger has been greatly influenced by their parent. I'm sure there are youngsters that get hooked and want to fly at this age, but the parents have to be a major supporter to make it happen.

The Tampa crash was a kid that obviously had some issues and acted out to get attention. With all that's in the news this is the biggest way he could get it. I don't see much difference in this outcry and the Columbine deal. Just different kids acting out in different ways.

It is a sad world where children think they have to die to get someone to notice them.

I think this will be a turning point for GA. If a 15 year old kid without a license can do this then any terrorist can steal a plane and head for a public forum like a ball game. Not that they couldn't do it before, but now that it happened with a GA aircraft there are sure to be changes.

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