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Statue of Liberty Trike Flight Ruled Within Bounds

By Dan Grunloh, Editor Light Plane World

Statue of Liberty
Barry Maggio’s photo of Lady Liberty

June 24, 2010 — Certificated pilot Barry Maggio was informed by the New York Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) that the investigation of his flight in his N-numbered S-LSA Apollo Monsoon trike near the Statue of Liberty early on the morning of May 31 is closed. An alarm was raised by park officials who contacted the FAA with a report that “An ultralight buzzed the Statue of Liberty.” The claimed distance of 150 feet widely reported in the media was soon refuted by the continuous on-board video Maggio made of his flight.

An NYPD helicopter sent by the FAA pulled alongside Maggio’s trike near the George Washington Bridge during his return flight north and the pilot called on the Hudson VFR corridor frequency asking Barry where he was going and how much fuel he had on board. After answering the question, Maggio was told, “We need to talk.” They agreed to fly 14 miles north to Westchester County Airport. The control tower closed one of its runways for 20 minutes for the interview with the police.

After checking his credentials, viewing his videos, and consulting with the FAA, the police determined Maggio was not a terrorist, permitting him to continue his flight up the Hudson River. Erroneous news stories about the flight were promulgated because of a casual statement Maggio made by Barry in an interview in which he stated, “I haven’t lived here in a while but I guess I didn’t realize that security was that tight.” He added that Security is “obviously different in the city here, in Lower Manhattan, and I didn’t take that into account.”

Many interpreted this to mean he had not been properly briefed prior to the flight and that he had committed some kind of airspace violation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Maggio had attended the special training seminar for users of the New York City Class B Hudson River exclusion zone special flight rules area (SFRA) along with 60 other pilots. Even more important, he was aware and understood the recent changes to FAR 91.119, which granted weight-shift trikes and powered parachutes the same minimum altitude requirements as helicopters when flying in undeveloped areas - including the waters of the Hudson River under the SFRA area. The FAA has now stated that Barry broke no regulations. He was flying in the same airspace used routinely by helicopters giving scenic rides to the Statue of Liberty.

The incident can be attributed to park officials who were not aware the change in regulations for minimum safe altitudes had taken effect, but we shouldn’t be too hard on them. Everyone in this story did the right thing excluding perhaps the media who rushed to report a sensational news story. The park officials saw what looked like a suspicious ultralight early on a holiday morning near the statue and made a report. The NYPD investigated the incident politely and with professionalism. The pilot did everything that was required, and now the FAA has laid the case to rest. Watch for the upcoming July issue of Light Plane World for more photos and a detailed account of “Barry Maggio’s Rendezvous with Lady Liberty.”

Editor’s Note: EAA published a story regarding Mr. Maggio’s flight in the June 4, 2010, edition of e-Hotline. At the time of the publication we referenced a story published by the Wall Street Journal including a quote by Mr. Maggio. We took Mr. Maggio’s own quoted words at face value when considering the story’s merits. The decision to publish the story was made as a caution to all pilots that we have a responsibility to operate our aircraft legally and with an eye toward prudence. We regret if EAA’s story did not communicate this intent.

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