The FAA has revoked the pilot certificates of former FAA Safety Manager and longtime Flying magazine columnist Martha Lunken after she flew under Jeremiah Morrow Bridge near Cincinnati in 2020. According to a feature story on Lunken on Cinncinnati.com by the Cincinnati Examiner’s Keith Biery Golick, Lunken has known for some time about a potential certificate action by the FAA because of the bridge stunt, but only recently learned that she had gotten about the worst possible outcome, not the suspension, but the revocation of her certificates. That means that she can start over, as a student pilot, after a year. Lunken is 79, but I wouldn’t put it past her.
In full disclosure, I’ve known Martha for the last couple of decades. She worked for me when I was at Flying, and I have tremendous respect for her writing and her aviation accomplishments, as well as great fondness for her personally. That said, her judgment, which she will be the first to admit, can be questionable at times.
Flying made the rare move of suspending Lunken from her monthly column as a result of the FAA action, writing on its Facebook page, “Martha Lunken, longtime FLYING columnist, was subject to an FAA certificate action following an incident in 2020. Lunken has been upfront with the FAA and FLYING throughout the process as we’ve waited for a final outcome to be determined.” That final outcome was, of course, the FAA’s big hammer coming down.
Flying went on to say about Lunken, “She acknowledges the mistake in judgment she made, and she’ll be working towards the return of her flying status in the future.” The magazine went on to say that Lunken would be on hiatus as a columnist, apparently until she gets her ticket back.
If you know Martha at all, you’re aware that she is no church mouse. She specializes in loudly voicing her opinion about what is right and what is good, and heaven help you if you’re in the way when she lets loose. And politically correct, she is not. A column from a while back voiced the opinion that, isn’t it true that every young woman pilot falls in love with her flight instructor? The piece got widely panned by pilots across the gender spectrum.
As far as Martha’s stunt is concerned, she has acknowledged her mistake—a state-operated remote camera, by the way, caught Lunken’s impulsive under bridge foray. Was what she did dangerous? Not really. Was it against FAA rules? Without question. Did the FAA have to slap her down for it? Of course, they didn’t. But seeing that she is such a public figure and a former FAA employee on top of that, the safety folks for the FAA might have felt as though they had no choice in the matter. And they might be right. Still, that hasn’t stopped the online mobs from piling on Martha for her mistake. It certainly was a mistake, though one for which I’d argue the FAA should have slapped her wrist, hard even, instead of revoking her ticket.
Even though she writes for a competitor, we are rooting for Martha to get back in the air and to keep telling her stories.