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Closed runways can't stop pilot-Sen. James Inhofe

By Al Kamen

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was flying his twin-engine Cessna 340 down to Port Isabel, Tex., on Oct. 21, headed to his house on South Padre Island. It's something he's done every so often for the last 50 years.

As Inhofe was getting ready to land, he noticed huge (60 feet long by 10 feet wide) yellow X's on the main runway, which were not there to mark the landing spot. The big signs were laid out to indicate that the runway was closed while workmen were doing general maintenance.

Inhofe, who was traveling with three passengers, told us Tuesday that he was "getting ready to land, then I saw a big X," the workers and the equipment. So he flew the six-seater over the workers and landed "well off to the side," he said.

In addition to the X markings, airports also use markers with reflectors or lights to alert a closed runway. Also, runway closures and other important information are highlighted in what's called a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, which all pilots are supposed to read before take-off. Inhofe said he "didn't have a NOTAM."

An airport official -- "He hates me, I don't know why," Inhofe said -- apparently was none too pleased with the use of a closed runway.

"I called the [Federal Aviation Administration] when I landed to tell them what had happened" and to see if there was any problem, he said. Since there was no accident, there appeared to be no significant problem, he said.

Inhofe, by the way, has been flying GOP candidates around their states to help them campaign.

On Sunday, Inhofe headed back home --- but not without incident. Fortunately, he didn't try to take off on the closed runway. Actually, he didn't try to take off on any of the four bi-directional runways at the airport. He chose instead to use a taxiway.

"I really didn't have a choice," he explained, "given the size of the plane. The taxiway is very wide and long, better than the rough runways" at that airport. " He notified the airport official of his plan.

But landing on a closed runway and taking off on a taxiway could be considered a major no-no by the FAA, which can suspend Inhofe's pilot's license if it deems there were serious infractions. The senator could appeal such a decision to the National Transportation Safety Board. The FAA declined to comment.

In practice, however, suspensions are uncommon, we're told, unless there's possible criminal activity -- drugs, for example -- or the infractions were intentional or caused injury. Pilots may voluntarily file a report to explain such incidents, and that usually closes the matter.

Inhofe's best bet, though, might be to make sure that Republicans win control of the Senate next week so that he can become chairman of the Senate transportation subcommittee on aviation.

By Al Kamen  | October 26, 2010; 5:12 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency, In the Loop  
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Thanks,w_bryan. Your comments were perfect.

As for Inhofe... thanks for making Republicans and pilots all over the country look bad, you arrogant slimeball.

Posted by: wk2w | October 28, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Typical. The rules(like suffering,sacrifice, and moral behavior) are for OTHER people. It's not important that he be a law-abiding citizen as long as he forces other peole to follow his rules.

Posted by: wd1214 | October 27, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

My husband was the job foreman on this job and called me directly after this incident. I am thrilled to find out that this made the Washington Post and now perhaps the Wall Street Journal. Why? Because Senator Inhofe's primary concern after this incident occurred was, "he needed a jump on his truck and his flat fixed". Airport officials were running out of the buildings because they thought that the idiot flying that plane was about to kill the workers on the runway. And Senator Inhofe exited his plane and said, "Who is the stupid son-of-______'s that closed this runway down? I'm supposed to have free rein of airspace". Yes, the FAA was called and the FAA confirmed the Senator Inhofe called into the tower in Corpus Christi, Texas to get a weather check in Port Isabel and the tower told him then that the runway was closed. But apparently, Senator Inhofe thinks that he is flying Air Force One and can land anywhere he wants. The FAA also confirmed that this is not the first time this has happened with this particular Senator. Words to describe this incident: disturbing, arrogant, disgusting, above the law, no regard for human life, idiotic, and just plain STUPID. Senator Inhofe, please put your family out in the middle of a runway or in the middle of a freeway and close it down and I promise, there will be that ONE IDIOT that comes sailing through almost killing them. I pray that your family isn't hurt just like mine wasn’t. But it is really irritating to think that a measly ole’ senator from Oklahoma thinks it’s OK to threaten another human being’s life and just hop out of his plane and ask for a jump on his truck. And you just can’t figure out why the airport officials “hate” you. And to say that he landed on the end of the runway, what bull. He went right over my husband's head...about 6 feet to be exact, then he was going down to land and there was red Dodge truck in the middle of the runway...he pulled up and went over the truck and landed. My husband was told by airport officials that they were getting the phone to call 911 because whoever was in that Dodge truck, was about to be killed by the idiot flying the plane. One of those airport officials said he served three tours of duty in Vietnam and never has he seen his own legs shake so bad as when he thought he was about to witness this horrendous accident. A decent, experienced pilot wouldn’t have ever been in this situation, but if he had, he would have CIRCLED THE AIRPORT AND LANDED ON ANOTHER RUNWAY. I guess Senator Inhofe was in such a hurry that some construction workers from Texas weren’t going to get in his way of getting to his vacation home. This isn't the first time this has happened and I just pray that the next time this happens he doesn’t kill anyone...because if that does happen, and someone is killed with a stunt like this again, we will all be wondering why in the hell the FAA didn't pull his license then. Please don't fly into Port Isabel until all the work is complete.

Posted by: kessleyhanson | October 27, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

This man needs a lesson in following the rules. If work was in progress on the runway and it was closed, a cavalier attitude to land on it anyway could well have put people in significant danger. A taxiway is not a runway, period. Just because it's smoother is not an excuse to use it for one. If this is the way he interprets all rules, he obviously has a serious problem with authority. He would probably speed through a highway work zone too. Should we have confidence in his judgment?

Posted by: sober1 | October 27, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I guarantee the reason Airport Official "hates" you is because of previous, similar instances of thinking you are above the rules of common folk. What a buzzard. What a waste of tax salary.

Posted by: fedup3 | October 27, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I guarantee the reason Airport Official "hates" you is because of previous, similar instances of thinking you are above the rules of common folk. What a buzzard. What a waste of tax salary.

Posted by: fedup3 | October 27, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Inhofe showed blatent disregard for the safety of workers on the ground, for the airport FBO and for the rules governing general aviation, which are respected and followed by general aviation pilots out of a sense of duty and respect for the craft of aviation. His actions are the height of hubris and should result in permanent susension of his flying privileges.

Posted by: w_bryan | October 27, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Another nonstory. He reported to the FAA what he did upon landing and then got permission from the tower when taking off.

Posted by: gfafblifr | October 27, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

The man who berates those who break the rules...truly a commentary on the feeling of entitlement some in power seem to possess. FAA won't pull his license, but he should be ashamed of his hypocrisy.

I suppose you learned that in Sunday School Jim?

Posted by: CyniCal1255 | October 27, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

It is clear that the senator is in violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations and should have his license pulled by the FAA. Such arrogance and stupidity puts people in danger. The FAA should launch an immediate investigation and ground this air head.

Posted by: localhistory1 | October 27, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

I really don't give a damn if the "wise and all knowing, science denying, for sale Senator from Oklahoma" flies his pompous ass into Guadaloupe Peak. He would be doing the country a huge favor. What is criminal about the arrogant behavior of Senator Selfimportant is that he put the lives of the passengers on his plane and the workers on the ground at major risk. When a runway is closed for maintenance it is closed to all for a very important reason, construction equipment is authorized to and can enter the runway at will without notice. The FAA should immediately ask him to explain why his license to aviate should not be yanked but they won't have the cajones to do so.

Posted by: RandomArrow | October 26, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

While I wouldn't ride with him, I'd vote for him.

Obama probably had his stiffs lay out the X on the runway to set him up...lying, flailing liberals will do anything to stomp out a vote for a Republican.

Posted by: joesmithdefend | October 26, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Teahadists are above the law. Just ask Inhofe.

Posted by: Garak | October 26, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I thought the Republicans were the "party of personal responsibility."

But when he gets caught doing something wrong, rather than accepting responsibility and consequences, he blames the controversy on an airport official, claiming "He hates me, I don't know why."

The problem wasn't that an airport official hates him, the problem was that he violated many rules and endangered the lives of the maintenance workers with his willful disregard for the rules and the safety of others.

Posted by: terje1 | October 26, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Apparently in addition to climate change being a hoax he believes that air traffic control is a commie plot. Just think kids, idiots like this could be in control of your Congress next week! The UN may need to invade the U.S. just to keep us from ruining the world's chances at a 22nd century.

Colorado senate candidate Ken Buck called Inhofe a "hero" for calling climate change a hoax. A HERO.

Posted by: B2O2 | October 26, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

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