Going Direct: Harrison Ford Is Getting Off Scott Free: Good.

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.


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13 thoughts on “Going Direct: Harrison Ford Is Getting Off Scott Free: Good.

  1. While I agree with the content of the article, the title isn’t really accurate: He didn’t get off scott-free – he had to do some remedial training. Additionally, if we don’t want to non-flying media to chastise Ford and the FAA, we shouldn’t title articles that they will quote as evidence that he got off. Paraphrasing, if we said something like “Ford was a beneficiary of a new, common-sense approach to enforcement”, we would make it a lot harder to criticize the FAA and aviation as a whole.

  2. Great article. I agree that they made the right choice.
    Maybe if it was a “near miss” or endangering lives it may have called for a different outcome. It’s easy to criticize until an incident happens to any one of us. I’m sure any experienced pilot that makes a mistake would hope the FAA would be willing to take expierience and good track record into account before harshly penalizing a good pilot.

  3. I agree that this is a good thing. The real test to see if his celebrity status has been a factor will come when a few Joe blows make similar goofs. Let’s see what happens then.

  4. Really, land on a taxi way and not a runway. If that was me I would have had my license suspended. That’s what I would expect of any pilot that lands on a taxi way…. and never mind flying over another commercial jet while attempting to land. Mr Ford did get special privileges due to his fame and fortune, so please don’t tell me any different.

    While landing at a Long Island airport I was in a left hand pattern, but was on the wrong side of some silly parkway which was never posted except at the local FBO. I was called to the tower after I landed and I thought I was going to sit in jail for the next 15 years. A landing on a taxi way would have been a suspended license for sure.

    My opinion folks that’s all.

  5. If he had hit the airliner then would everyone still be applauding? I think not. That was a serious mistake on his part and remedial training might not keep him from doing something more disastrous.

  6. Good, now when I screw up I’ll site his case. Our FSDO and FAA rep’s in our area are tops.

  7. Ford is an accomplished pilot who is a great proponent of general aviation. Glad all ended well and the FAA showed restraint and common sense in the handling of the incident. Well done.

  8. I agree that the choice of the article’s title is not only misleading, but is also ammunition for the ever-present critics of general aviation. Nobody got off scott free here. A pilot made a mistake, he owned up to it, and he complied with the requirement for a bit of extra training.

    To suggest that Mr. Ford’s remedial training was punishment is to misunderstand the value of the exercise. Without knowing what specific areas were addressed, I would suggest that any time spent in review of regulations, or in flight procedures is time well spent, and is good for all of us, famous or not.

  9. Dear Mr. Jim Raticheck; WELL DONE, totally agree that the Plane&Pilot tittle just not go well, and your suggestion is excellent.
    Mr. Ford is in fact a very good pilot and has done so much for aviation, so FAA had a proper approach regarding this issue.

  10. It’s proven over the years that if we use mistakes to learn from instead of punishment and discipline everyone will gain. If it’s a deliberate or irresponsible purposeful action then loss of certificate is appropriate. The FAA, in the past Punished Air Traffic Controllers for any minor error and threatened them with a loss of employment. This did nothing but make for a very nervous controller. It was the same with Pilots and that’s something we don’t need. It makes for a much better and safer environment when all involved can learn from mistakes and can operate without fear. With very few exceptions pilots and controllers do not intentionally violate rules. We all make mistakes and if we think we never have we’re probably in the wrong business.

  11. how is it ok to fly over an airliner in any situation? If this had happened on the actual runway it would have been a runway incursion and he should have done a go-around. The fact that he touched down after seeing an airliner in his way showed he was complacent. I agree with not revoking his license, but everyone applauding his actions is a bit ridiculous. He made a mistake and should have been punished accordingly, not just “studying.”

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