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Blog | Stop Formation Flying Over our Homes

Dangerous formation flying occurs over West Los Angeles not one week after fatal crash.

It was the noise of the news helicopters that drew my attention to on Friday, August 10, 2012, 6:12 PM, while trying to return to Santa Monica Airport. Upon turning on the TV, I expected a traffic report. Instead I immediately saw the horrific image of a plane engulfed in flames in the West Los Angeles neighborhood not far from the Westside Pavilion.

I checked WebTrak today, August 18, to investigate if traffic into and out of SMO was halted after the August 10 crash. It did not surprise me that there were operations into and out of SMO shortly after the crash, including pattern flights and jet operations (see attachment). It was interesting to note the helicopters over the crash site. I saw five of them out my back window. WebTrak has trouble recognizing some helicopters. Instead of showing helicopter icons, they had a jet as well as small fixed wing aircraft performing close circles over the crash site area. There is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to WebTrak information, but at least it offers us some information to try and sort through. Although it does seem that the most egregious events are difficult if not impossible to locate.

For instance, in less than one weeks time after the tragic fatal crash, I received the following email message:

"Today at around 1pm, two single engine planes flew overhead in CLOSE formation only about 20 feet apart.  I can't believe that these idiots are allowed to play their air games over our homes inside the approach to SMO and LAX!!
One mistake and we have two planes crashing into homes!!"

Coincidentally, my wife and a neighbor witnessed the same group of two planes over our area.

When  I checked WebTrak I found nothing that came even close to representing this event.

I brought this issue of formation flying to the attention of SMO staff several times in the past. At first I was told by staff that planes were not allowed to fly in formation, SMO website states "Formation Flying - Formation flying within the Class D Airspace is highly discouraged unless necessary for an emergency." However, a representative from the FAA who was fielding questions at an Airport Commission meeting said that if the pilots request to approach SMO in formation they would be allowed to. Incredibly, he even said that he knew of no restriction on the number of aircraft that could fly information.

Formation flying is an unnecessary safety risk. It is unacceptable and it is disrespectful to the community that it endangers

We, the community, need to stand up and fight for our rights as it is evident that the City of Santa Monica and the FAA will remain complacent.   

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Frank Biele August 20, 2012 at 11:57 PM
We live on Manning Ave, nearest cross street is Olympic. I am a pilot. The other day OI heard what I thought were 2 planes, flying side by side. Sure enough-they were...IN A TRAFFIC PATTERN? To my knowledge this is not permitted per FAA regulation. At such a low altitude, and after a crash this should be considered criminal behavior (endangering residents).
Rodger Kellogg October 05, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Lets Make sure the Lease with the City Of Los Angeles, which includes a portion of the Air Port is not signed Again, and that could well Eliminate the Corportate Air Craft and others. Rod Kellogg
Fred Smith September 09, 2013 at 11:47 AM
Frank Biele, you are totally wrong. Formation flying is allowed by the FAA under all circumstances in every airspace with prior briefed consent of both pilots. In reality all the formation pilots in So. Cal that I know of have FAA FAST ratings that they had to undergo a more difficult curriculum and training requirements than you needed to get your PPL. The number of formation accidents in the U.S. is practically 0 and mostly involves military aircraft. The only place an airport can restrict formation flying is takeoffs and landings on noise grounds.
Fred Smith September 09, 2013 at 11:52 AM
Also, if you check your FARs Frank, you'll see that the minimum safe altitudes are all exempt WHERE NECESSARY FOR TAKEOFFS AND LANDINGS. If people move into the traffic pattern of an airport, they are likely to have planes flying lower than the 1000 feet from the nearest highest point within a 2000 foot radius that the rest of a congested area requires. If you moved there and it bugs you, you are simply stupid. You sure you have a pilot's license Frank? The rest of you, I have news for you. The FAA determines what happens in the sky over your homes period. Pilots are trained and have to operate under thousands of pages of federal regulations and in the L.A. basin, they also operate with strict supervision of the local Flight Standards District Office. Every day we pilots have to share the road with you careless and untrained drivers, motorcyclists and bicycle riders (who collectively kill tens of thousands of people in the U.S. every year) and yet you rail against the one thing you aren't capable of doing while happily texting while you're driving. Ignorance makes you look foolish.
Fred Smith September 09, 2013 at 12:36 PM
Martin Rubin, I looked up the pilots in the photo you posted and spoke with their lead and they are a professional airshow team with all formation rated pilots who were likely either practicing or doing an event. They have never had a single accident (of any kind) in the 10+ years they've been operating in and out of Torrance (and airports around Southern California). They also operate aircraft (and their pilot ratings) under careful yearly inspections carried out by the Long Beach Flight Standards District Office and notify the FAA of every event they do. In other words, they are professionally trained professionals who are operating under strict regulations and standards. What standards do you operate your motor vehicle under? Any? How many people do you jeopardize on a daily basis with your hurtling barely controlled mass of steel? Three pedestrians were killed in Santa Monica in 2012 and those weren't killed by pilots. As I make it, one pilot was killed in an accident (solo, regular plane, mechanical problem, Santa Monica resident) in Santa Monica in 2012. On what grounds do you want to "ban" formation flying "over your house?"

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