The crash-landing of a small test plane at Torrance Municipal Airport last month has some residents and officials questioning whether experimental aircraft ought to be flying out of an airport that is in the midst of homes and small businesses.
One city resident told the Torrance City Council on Tuesday that experimental airplanes like the one that crashed should not be flying over city neighborhoods.
"I don't think this is a safe situation," Joseph Arciuch complained.
City Council members requested a staff report about the rules governing such experimental airplanes, which are primarily small, home-built craft.
"This is a highly developed urban area," said Councilman Bill Applegate, who said that unproven planes that need fine tuning should be flown in a less developed area.
Councilman George Nakano said that although he does not favor an outright ban, he does have concerns about the safety of experimental planes.
The pilot of the plane, John Parker, 52, of Torrance, says the matter is being blown out of proportion.
His craft--a small aluminum plane called "American Special"--met all federal requirements, according to Parker, who is well-known among those who build and race their own planes.
And some aviation experts say that experimental aircraft are being unduly criticized.
"If you were going to build your own plane that you were going to fly, wouldn't you go the extra mile to make sure it was safe?" asked John Burton, spokesman at the Experimental Aircraft Assn., based in Oshkosh, Wis. "Home-built pilots have a vested interest in safety."
The debate is not new.
In Santa Monica, city officials talked of banning experimental aircraft last October after the crash of a home-built plane. They found out later that the city lacked authority to enact a sweeping ban on the planes. In that accident, a passenger in the plane was hurt, a home was set on fire and another was damaged.
The Torrance accident was much less dramatic. Parker's plane had trouble shortly after taking off at 3:14 p.m. on June 28. The plane was attempting to land without power when it hit the ground, remaining upright, a witness said.
"He landed hard. There was substantial damage to the aircraft and minor injuries to the pilot," said Barbara Abels, public affairs officer with the Federal Aviation Administration, Western Pacific Region. The FAA is investigating the cause of the accident.
The plane was a "proof-of-concept" aircraft, said Parker, a craft he was using to test systems such as engine controls and landing gear. It had flown about 70 hours.
"It's not an airplane you fly every day. It's not a pleasure plane--it's a research vehicle," Parker said.
Parker has flown and raced planes extensively. "He's quite well-known in the air-racing world," said Jack Cox, editor in chief of Experimental Aircraft Assn. publications.
In a separate incident June 20, Parker's plane exceeded noise limits at the airport, said David Roelen, city environmental quality officer. Roelen said he wrote Parker, stating that any future complaints about noise levels would be referred to a city board that oversees airport noise matters.
The FAA has special regulations for experimental aircraft, said Fred Farrar, a spokesman at the agency's Washington headquarters. They must get special air-worthiness certificates after an FAA inspection and must spend their first 40 hours of flight over unpopulated areas, he said.
Most experimental aircraft are built by owners from kits, though not every kit plane is an experimental craft.