Aviation Officials In Vegas Investigating Experimental Plane

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Aviation officials are investigating whether a plane that crashed into a home, killing the pilot and two residents, violated operating limitations by flying over a populated area.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Elliott Simpson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the "experimental" aircraft - a Velocity 173 RG - had logged five flight hours before it crashed Friday morning into the North Las Vegas home.
"We're investigating whether this aircraft had to have 40 flight hours to fly over populated areas while arriving at, or departing from, an airport," Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor wrote in a statement to the media.
The rules on certifying and flying home-built experimental aircraft, such as the Velocity, are detailed in a 150-plus page Federal Aviation Administration document.
Before its maiden flight, the FAA must certify the craft's airworthiness. Then it is flight tested, normally for 40 hours in the case of the Velocity aircraft, by a licensed pilot over remote, unpopulated areas, according to the FAA regulations.
During flight testing, an FAA-certified examiner must verify that it can be flown safely. After 40 hours have been logged, the FAA can make an addition to the experimental aircraft airworthiness certificate that states the limitations of the plane.
Even then, "Except for takeoffs and landings, this aircraft may not be operated over densely populated areas or in congested airways," the regulations state.
The regulations state that such home-built aircraft are "prohibited from operating in congested airways or over densely populated areas unless directed by air traffic control, or unless sufficient altitude is maintained to effect a safe emergency landing in the event of a power unit failure, without hazard to persons or property on the ground."
Gregor said the airworthiness certificate for the plane was issued in 2002. He said the issue, however, is not whether its owner had the proper airworthiness certificate but what its operating limitations were.
"A certified inspector examines a home-built aircraft once it's completed to make sure the work is done properly," he continued. "Home-built aircraft also must get annual inspections, just like any other privately owned aircraft. Again, it is up to the aircraft owner to make sure that these inspections are performed."
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
AP-NY-08-23-08 1708EDT