Fatal Occurrence 2011P0192
Weak rules on formation flying blamed for deadly mid-air crash
LENA SMIRNOVA – February 10, 2011
Lax regulations on formation flights put pilots and the public in danger, say flight instructors in the aftermath of Wednesday’s fatal plane crash over Fraser Valley that involved two pilots flying close together.
Amateur pilot Donn Hubble, 60, of Langley, and his passenger Patrick Lobsinger, 70, of Surrey, died Wednesday after Mr. Hubble’s Cessna 150 aircraft clipped another plane during a four-plane flight formation exercise over Fraser Valley.
The pilot of the second plane, Paul Knapp, 57, of Pitt Meadows, survived the crash.
Government regulators do not require amateur pilots to get additional licensing to fly in formation, and B.C. flight schools do not provide flight-formation classes because they consider them dangerous and uninsurable.
“There is nothing more dangerous in aviation than formation flying. Nothing. Period,” said Wes Voufden, flight instructor at Principal Air Ltd. in Chilliwack. “It’s not something any private pilot can enter into.”
Mr. Voufden has taught flight classes for three years, but refuses to fly in formation with other planes due to safety concerns. Not that this saves him from having to dodge amateur pilots who attempt flight formations in Chilliwack.
The pilots involved in Wednesday’s crash were part of the Langley-based Swift Birds crew that flies over Vancouver’s Victory Square Cenotaph on Remembrance Day. Western Warbirds, Warbirds, Delta Flight and Fraser Blues amateur pilots also take part in the ceremonies alongside a Comox-based military group.
Mr. Hubble recently took the lead co-ordinating the Remembrance Day flights from Terry Wilshire, 68. Mr. Wilshire described him as an experienced pilot who practiced formation flying regularly, even though Transport Canada only required the pilots to have two training sessions before the November exhibition.
“They were more serious than that,” Mr. Wilshire said. “They would go up at any opportunity.”
Mr. Wilshire said his successor had more than 300 hours of flight experience before he started formation flying 15 years ago.
Military pilots typically get formal training in formation flying, but flight instructors say the practice can be dangerous for amateurs.
“It depends on the training that you got,” said Wayne Cave, flight instructor at Coastal Pacific Aviation in Abbotsford. “The military do that all the time.”
Mr. Cave also refuses to participate in formation flights. Coastal Pacific Aviation, Principal Air and the Pacific Flying Club in Delta do not offer any formation flying classes, and all said the lack of formal training is common across the province.
Amateur pilots can join formation flights without any special training if they notify the other pilots that they will be flying in formation on the ground and clear their plans with the control tower when they are in a controlled airspace.
Transport Canada representatives said they will not reassess their regulations until the Transportation Safety Board completes an investigation into the Fraser Valley accident.
“Our government has regulations regarding formation flight and Transport Canada will examine any information provided to us by the Transportation Safety Board and take appropriate action, as required,” John Babcock, press secretary to Transport Minister Chuck Strahl, wrote in an e-mail. “We ensure that the training offered by flight schools is of appropriate content and quality.”
Transport Canada already requires private pilots to get a special attachment to their licence if they want to fly a plane that has floats or multiple engines. Mr. Voufden also wants the government to require pilots to get special licences to fly in formation.
“It’s not really anything we can control until regulation exists,” he said. “It’s going to be a fight to shut it down.”