An ANN Special Report: Since When Is The FAA Using the Media to
Do Its Dirtywork?
(Part Four of A Four Part Special Report)
Another "Bad Fed"?
We heard from a number of people,
including serious players in the airshow business,
about several altercations with Lehman in which they plainly
questioned his motives, veracity, and professional detachment.
The situation was serious enough to cause ICAS President, John
Cudahy, to contact the FAA's Airshow Coordinator, Sue Gardner, to
seek an investigation. More pointedly; one of the demo jumpers for
the 2001 EAA Fly-In at Arlington ran afoul of Lehman and found him
to be "not even familiar with the provisions of the waiver" that
the FAA issued for the airshow portion of the Fly-In. Noting that
Lehman was "constantly causing problems for many of the performers
and officials," of the Fly-In, demo jumper Alan Silver, an
internationally recognized parachuting authority, skydiver, rigger
and rigger examiner (who even consults for the FAA and NTSB), was
accused of a violation by Lehman for a jump he performed (without
compensation) on Saturday, July 14th, 2001.
According to FAA documents
pertaining to the alleged violation, Lehman accused Silver (right)
of conducting an airshow demonstration jump that did not comply
with the waiver issued for the show. Lehman reportedly did this
based on his personal observations of Silver's jump. He stated that
Silver "did not comply with all the requirements contained in the
Certificate of Authorization in that you exited the aircraft over a
congested area and landed within the spectators in an area that was
not large enough."
Silver disagreed. Strongly.
The problem with Lehman's charges is that they were, apparently,
untrue. A veritable "Who's Who" of airshow personalities in the
great Northwest came forward and countered Lehman's assertions with
their own expert (often written) observations.
The Fly-In's AirBoss, Steve Soper, took "great exception" to
Lehman's charges in a letter to the FAA, calling Lehman's
estimation of Silver's exit position "an opinion based on a
Soper alleged Lehman could not have even seen Silver's landing
because "he did not have a clear view of the landing area." Soper
noted that there were "several twin-engine aircraft parked between
our position (Soper was with Lehman during the jump) and the
landing area, including a DC-3." Soper also mentions that Lehman
had inspected the landing area previously and "he had no trouble
with it." Soper added that he found it "disturbing that an FAA
Inspector can just decide in his head that there was a violation in
such an arbitrary manner, write a letter to stick in someone's file
with no discussion with the person involved or anything or anyone
to substantiate his claim."
Soper's observations were
corroborated by Blue Sky Parabatics' Lynn and Deb Kleen, Airshow
Announcer Gene Soper, and others... including ANN's Jim Campbell,
an experienced skydiver and former jumpmaster and instructor, who
did see the jump and can corroborate the fact that Silver was
operating safely and legally.
ANN: Nobody Wins
There's more to this story... the conflict between Kapowsin and
a few of the airport's home owners is an amazing tale and we look
forward to telling it to you once we've heard both sides equally
However; no matter who's at fault,
media reports like that broadcast by KIRO, and actions like those
of the FAA, are woeful examples of unfairness wrapped around
several errors in fact, false allegations and improper assumptions
that do no one any good... especially Kapowsin and the rest of the
The FAA has NO right to
pre-judge an incomplete investigation and then impart that biased
information, inequitably, to those that can (obviously) do the most
damage. We're particularly concerned by the compelling and numerous
(documented) charges of bias on the part of the Seattle FSDO
against skydiving interests... Indeed, in yet another case, a
Kapowsin DZ pilot made a complaint to the Seattle FSDO about an
operator that he asserted blocked a runway he was approaching...
and thereafter found himself violated (in part, for flying too low
while executing the obligatory go-around) for the same incident!
Pilots at Kapowsin have told ANN that they simply can't trust the
FAA to deal with them equitably, and feel helpless to deal with
situations in which the FAA might otherwise be helpful in improving
the safety of all those involved. The cause of aviation safety is
not being promoted via the aforementioned actions.
Further; as regards KIRO's story... every member of the media
has a responsibility to research every story carefully, or to at
least consult with those with enough expertise to offer a proper
rendering of the facts. This was not a hard story to research and
data on the accidents is plentiful... and public. We think KIRO
missed the mark here... by quite a bit, and it appears that has
already harmed Kapowsin a great deal, and is destined to continue
doing so, so long as this story stands as it is.
There's more to all this, folks... and as we research a few more
details, we'll present other stories to you...
But in the meantime, ANN is formally
requesting a DOT-IG investigation of the actions of the Seattle
FSDO, Inspector Lehman, their ability to work with sport
parachuting interests, and the way that both disclosed their
actions and observations to a local TV station in a manner that not
only was outside proper procedure (and potentially, the law) but
may have done critical damage to a Seattle area aviation business.
We'll keep you apprised.