Comments Come After Some Of Those Affected By Leeward Accident
Say Races Should Continue
Despite having been seriously injured, or losing a family member
when Jimmy Leeward's plane tragically went down at the Reno Air
Races in September, some of the people represented in a law suit
against the race organizers by attorney Tony Buzbee have told him
that they would like to not only see the races continue, but to
attend future events.
According to a report from the Associated Press, Buzbee's
response to them was "You are absolutely nuts."
But as the NTSB prepares for a hearing Tuesday concerning air
race and air show safety, support for such events among those who
actually attend them remains very strong.
To be sure, some of those in the lawsuit would prefer to see the
races halted, and RARA officials have said publicly that such an
outcome is certainly feasible. But statistics show that more then
10 million people attend air shows each year int he U.S., and the
September accident is the only one since 1951 in which any
spectators were killed. “When it comes to spectator
fatalities, their record is very good in the United States,”
said NTSB chair, Deborah Hersman. “But any fatalities lead us
to question how we can improve.”
Air race critics say that those events are more dangerous than
air shows, where performers are limited to an air show box which
parallels spectator areas along the flight line. Buzbee said the
turn to the final leg of the Reno race, in which the airplane is
briefly heading in the direction of the spectator area, makes the
event inherently dangerous.
The 1951 accident at an air show in Flagler, CO, resulted in a
change in how such events are staged in the U.S., including
specific distances up to 1,500 feet between the airplanes and
spectators depending on the type of aircraft participating in the
event. A mid-air collision at a show at Ramstein AFB in Germany in
1988 prompted a tightening of those rules after the wreckage fell
Attorney and pilot Mike Danko is quoted in the Reno
Gazette-Journal saying that the course of the hearing depends
on the questions asked by the board members. He said the NTSB
should push to uncover what he says are "weaknesses" in the FAA's
regulation of the air show and air race industry. Danko said this
board is more activist than past panels, citing a call for a ban on
all cell phone use in vehicles. "It's a cowboy operation," Danko
said of many of the air shows put on by municipalities around the
country. "Some of these shows are run on a shoestring," he said.
"People are lulled into a false sense of security."
Veteran air racer Howie Keefe, who wrote an analysis of the
accident involving Jimmy Leeward for the board, said the hearing
was about far more than the Reno Air Races. The shows "bring the
whole community together," he said, adding that the air show
industry is "important to America."
The ICAS estimates that air shows are responsible for $110
million in economic activity across the nation, with an audience of
10-12 million people annually.