According to an Article in the Tulsa World, the United States Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, landed his Cessna 340 on a closed runway at the Port Isabel-Cameron County Airport in Texas. At the time, the closed runway was marked with large X’s to protect a crew that was working on the runway and a corresponding Notam regarding the runway closure had been issued.
The Senator stated that he only saw the X’s about 20 seconds before he landed, which, according to him, was too late to change course. However, he was able to land on a part of the runway that was away from the location where the work was being performed. When asked about the Notam, the Senator stated “I did not know it because it was not given to me.” Later, when the Senator wanted to leave, he used the airport’s taxiway to take off.
What is interesting about this incident is that, after apparently notifying the FAA soon after landing and then talking with the FAA several days later, the Senator “expressed assurance that the agency will not take any action against him.” I find that hard to believe. Any other airman would be looking at an enforcement action alleging, at a minimum, violations of FARs 91.103 (requiring a pilot to become familiar with all available information concerning a flight), 91.139(c) (requiring compliance with a Notam) and 91.13(a) (careless and reckless) and seeking suspension of the airman’s pilot certificate for a period of at least 30-90 days based upon FAA Order 2150.3B Appendix B (the FAA’s Sanction Guidance Table).
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to encourage an enforcement action against the Senator. After all, he has always been a stalwart supporter of general aviation. Also, as we all know, stories reported in the media never include all of the facts. Perhaps the Senator has some viable defenses. However, it seems to me that the Senator should be subject to the same regulatory enforcement as every other airman. No more, no less.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens. If the FAA does pursue an enforcement action, I hope the Senator filed his NASA/ASRP Form, and hires a good aviation attorney to defend him!