Egyptian pilot's sudden landing at airport raises concerns

Published: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 3:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 3:01 p.m.

An Egyptian pilot training at a flight school in St. Augustine raised concerns early Friday morning when he circled Gainesville Regional Airport in a small plane and then made an unexpected and largely unannounced landing in heavy fog.

A police officer at the airport said the pilot, who arrived at about 2:50 a.m., failed to communicate by radio with the airport or the control tower in Jacksonville. He did, however, alert another pilot who was preparing to land.

The single-engine Cessna made a hard landing, smashing a runway light and skidding off the runway, Gainesville Police Department Officer Ralph McDowell said. The pilot and his male passenger got out of their plane near the University Air Center and went to sleep in the pilot’s lounge. GPD officers said the plane was not badly damaged and the pilot offered to pay for the $200 light.

“I think it was just poor judgment and being tired,” McDowell said.

The plane had left Fort Myers at about 12:30 a.m. on its way to St. Augustine, McDowell said; he talked with the two men at the airport.

“They said they didn’t check the in-flight weather briefings,” he said, and conditions got worse and worse as they traveled north. Because of the conditions, McDowell said, they decided to land in Gainesville.

The pilot, Moustafa Amin, of Cairo, Egypt, had received a temporary airman certificate on Dec. 28 and is rated to fly by instrumentation during poor visibility. Rainer Hueckels, owner of Florida Flyers European U.S. Flight School, said the Cessna 152, which is part of the school fleet, is also certified for flying by instruments only.

Hueckels said officials with the FBI and Transportation Safety Administration talked with him about the incident because the men involved are foreign nationals. Hueckels said they have visas and the government is taking no action against them.

“They just landed. They hit a light — that happens,” Hueckels said.

Police learned about the landing from an airport lineman, McDowell said.

“He was just concerned that they didn’t communicate, and they didn’t want to report that they were off the runway,” he said.

Hueckels said he had no explanation for the alleged failure to communicate. He said the pilot — who received language training in Egypt and is now studying in English — is proficient in the language.

“History has shown that flying is safe, both commercial and private,” Shaun Bevins, Gainesville Regional Airport’s operations manager, said. He pointed out that Amin had the correct training.

“He knew what he was supposed to do,” Bevins said. “I still believe that the Gainesville Regional Airport is safe.”

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