According to an Article in the LA Times, the pilot of an L-39 warbird was convicted of carelessly and operating the aircraft when he buzzed the Santa Monica Pier. The prosecution alleged that the pilot flew the L-39 along the shore at less than 100 feet, creating a wake on the ocean and close enough to a lifeguard stand for the lifeguard to feel the heat of engine exhaust. Then, just before the L-39 would have hit the Santa Monica Pier, the L-39 initiated a steep spiraling climb with smoke streaming from the tail. Apparently the flight was a promotion stunt for a movie being produced by the pilot.
Shortly after the flight, the FAA revoked the pilot’s airman certificates. However, at the time of the trial, the pilot had regained his pilot certificate following the required one-year waiting period after revocation. (Another example of “speedy” justice).
In addition to the testimony of witnesses, video of the flight was also received as evidence in the case showing the aircraft’s position and maneuvers. The jury found the pilot guilty of recklessly operating an aircraft, based upon a section of the state public utilities code intended to protect life and property from careless and reckless pilots. The pilot has not yet been sentenced, but the misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
This is yet another example of the growing trend of prosecuting authorities charging pilots with crimes for their conduct in operating an aircraft. Rather than simply risking the wrath of the FAA and certificate action, pilots now also risk prosecution for their conduct. Unfortunately, given the current political and economic climates, I fear this will only get worse.