Pilot fined for landing plane on the Mon-Fayette Expressway
Three months after Brian Nicholson deftly piloted a damaged single-engine airplane and made a delicate emergency landing on the Mon-Fayette Expressway, he was shocked to receive a bill for nearly $3,000 from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission for landing on the highway.
“I find this appalling,” Nicholson said on Friday. “We're trained as pilots to make a decision in emergency situations and not second-guess those decisions.”
Nicholson, an art teacher at Brownsville High School who lives in Upper Speers, was flying his vintage 1946 Universal Stinson airplane on Aug. 5. Accompanying him was fellow teacher and pilot John Armel from Vestaburg.
“We were just out for a leisurely flight,” Nicholson said.
Minutes after takeoff, the plane developed trouble — a chunk of the wooden propeller broke off, and the two pilots, seeing nowhere else to land the plane, chose the expressway.
Nicholson, a pilot for six years, landed the plane “between a car and a tractor-trailer” while avoiding power lines and highway signs. The plane landed at milepost 30, near U.S. Route 40 in Centerville.
A day after the incident, Nicholson told reporters, “There wasn't a whole lot in the world we could do at that time. We knew we had to get on the ground as soon as possible to stay alive, and this is the best place we could be.
“We didn't damage a thing,” he said. “We didn't damage the highway, any vehicles or the plane.”
The commission, which had initially billed Nicholson $1,000 for towing the plane from the scene, added $2,993.34 for dozens of man-hours spent removing the plane from the road, which the pilot deemed unnecessary.
Nicholson said he had a mechanic report to the scene, where he planned to replace the damaged prop, ask police to “stop traffic for no more than five minutes,” and fly away, a process that would have taken less than 30 minutes.
He said he had OKs from the state police and the Federal Aviation Administration “to fly out of there,” he said. “But the Turnpike Commission said I wasn't touching the plane.”
The commission said in a statement on Friday that “the decision to prohibit the pilot from taking off ... was made in the interest of customer safety and also because of the additional costs we would have incurred to shut down the road in both directions during takeoff.”
The commission issued a statement regarding the fine.
“It is standard practice for the turnpike to seek reparations after an incident that necessitates involvement of our personnel. How we're handling this is no different than how we handle similar accidents involving a car or truck, and it's comparable to processes used by other highway operators.
“This was an emergency, and someone was going to die if the right decision wasn't made,” Nicholson said, “Then to assess fines, that's just wrong.”
Chuck Brittain is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.