As has been widely reported today, Star Wars actor Harrison Ford is not being punished by the FAA for mistakenly landing on a taxiway at John Wayne International Airport in Santa Ana, California, in February.
So apparently, this rich, good-looking, famous movie star gets to screw up and get away with it?
Actually, that’s how it should be.
For those of you who somehow missed it or possibly forgot it, Ford landed at SNA on a taxiway while passing over the top of a taxiing 737 holding short for takeoff on the runway Ford was actually cleared to land on. Mainstream media widely reported the encounter as being a “near miss,” but to those of us who’ve watched the video of the event, it looks more like a sleepy day of arrivals at the AirVenture Oshkosh Fly-In. Ford not only missed the airliner by a country mile but it even looks as though he leveled off his descent to create even more room between his two-seater Aviat Husky and the big Boeing.
Instead of throwing the book at Ford, the FAA decided to require the 74 year old pilot to do some remedial studying. According to Ford’s attorney, Stephen Hofer, the FAA took a serious and hard look at the event in its interview with Ford, but ultimately took into account Ford’s extensive flying experience and previous long compliance with the regulations in deciding not to pull the actor’s ticket. Ford, who’s already completed the required additional training, is cleared to fly again.
The FAA’s decision not to go for Ford’s certificate might be, in part, because Ford admitted the mistake, took responsibility for it, and acted like a grownup about it right from the get-go.
Another reason Ford got his ticket back without penalty is that the FAA has recently started looking at discipline in a different way, examining the total safety picture before making a call. In this case, the question we have is, what would have been accomplished by suspending Ford’s certificate? I’ve had the chance to spend a little time with Ford and found him to be a great guy. Not a famous guy who plays at being nice but a regular guy who’s just himself. He’s a serious and accomplished pilot, and he spends a lot of his own time and money to help youngsters catch the flying bug. The point of punishing him for making that mistake would have been what exactly? To show that if you make a mistake you get punished? And just how does that enhance safety?
Instead, the FAA did the right thing in this case. Some are going to act outraged that a movie star got special treatment, but I don’t think that’s what happened at all. Instead, it appears that FAA exhibited its newfound approach to discipline, which is, to use it when there’s no better option. In this case, punishment would have perhaps been the easier course of the agency to take. That it chose the right path, even when it was the harder one, speaks volumes.