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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

— Oklahoma State University's new travel policy requires that a consultant pass judgment on private aircraft and pilots used by the school.

One such consultant expressed reservations Monday about allowing an 82-year-old man to fly a plane on university business as was the case in a Nov. 17, 2011, crash that killed four people, including two OSU coaches.

Kirk Koenig, president of the Indianapolis-based firm Expert Aviation Consulting, said flights like the one that crashed have relatively little federal oversight.

The single-engine Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee aircraft crashed into the mountains of central Arkansas, killing pilot Olin Branstetter, 82; women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and Branstetter's wife, Paula.

Federal officials haven't determined the cause of the crash. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams said the agency expects to release an accident report early next year.

There's no specific age at which a pilot would be considered unfit to fly, Koenig said, but when a pilot the age of Branstetter flies a small aircraft, it could raise concerns.

Koenig said federal law requires commercial pilots to retire at age 65. As a private pilot, Branstetter wouldn't have fallen under that provision.

Federal restrictions tend to be more lax regarding private pilots than for charter or airline pilots. Unlike commercial airline pilots, private pilots generally don't risk the safety of hundreds of passengers. Most private pilots act responsibly, he said, since they put themselves at risk when they don't.

“Worst-case scenario, you're generally killing yourself,” Koenig said. “And most people generally have self-preservation as their No. 1 issue.”

Koenig said the age of Branstetter's plane, built in 1964, would have been less of a concern. If a plane receives proper maintenance, it could be airworthy for decades, he said.

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