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Age of pilot in Oklahoma State plane crash a cause for concern, expert says

Following Oklahoma State University’s overhaul of the university’s travel policy, an aviation expert said Monday he would have reservations about allowing an 82-year-old pilot to fly a private plane on university business.

BY SILAS ALLEN Published: December 4, 2012

OSU’s new travel policy tightens restrictions for all university faculty and staff, including student employees, who travel on university business.

The new policy requires that a university aviation consultant approve all private aircraft that would be used for university business, as well as the pilots who would fly them.

OSU officials said they overhauled the policy as a result of the crash, but didn’t tailor it to the specific facts of the accident. Officials wouldn’t speculate as to whether last year’s fatal flight would have taken off had the new policy been in force. However, both Branstetter and the plane would have had to receive approval from an aviation consultant before flying.

Another aviation consultant said he isn’t convinced the age of the pilot alone would be enough to justify grounding a plane. George Williams, president of Arizona-based firm Williams Aviation Consultants, said safeguards are in place to prevent a pilot with serious health problems from flying.

Pilots must undergo an annual medical checkup to keep their FAA medical certification current.

Those checkups must be conducted by an FAA-certified medical examiner, meaning any pilot with a valid license has received approval to continue to fly.

Generally when evaluating whether a pilot and a plane are safe to fly, Williams said, he looks at the plane’s maintenance records and history. Likewise, he looks at the pilot’s credentials — how many hours logged, and in what conditions.

“Age doesn’t seem to be a factor,” Williams said. “If you have anything major wrong with you, you basically can’t have a pilot’s license.”

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