Pilots Lose Licenses For Defying FAA in Failed Red Bull Plane Swap
Last month, a pair of Red Bull-sponsored skydiving pilot cousins took flight in two airplanes and attempted to swap planes midair. The stunt failed, and while both pilots made it to the ground safely, one plane crashed into the uninhabited Arizona desert with nobody aboard. Now, both pilots have lost their licenses and face a fine from the Federal Aviation Administration. Meanwhile, Red Bull seems to have abandoned them; so far, the drink company faces no consequences for the stunt it sponsored.
On April 24, cousins Andy Farrington and Luke Aikins took off to attempt the unprecedented stunt. Each pilot would put his matching Cessna 182 into a dive before jumping out and skydiving over to the other plane. The planes were extensively modified for the stunt, including emergency parachutes, massive air brakes and a special autopilot system designed to keep the planes in a controlled dive. The stunt was aired live on Red Bull TV.
One key element of the stunt was that both planes would be empty during the pilot transfer, running on autopilot. This runs afoul of FAA regulations, which, naturally, say that someone has to be at an aircraft’s controls at all times during a flight.
Aikins petitioned the FAA for a one-time, 60-second exemption to the regulation, boasting that the safety measures built into the stunt would prevent any injuries or disasters. In Aikins’ petition, he argues that the twin Cessnas would not technically be aircraft during the skydiving portion of the stunt, but free-falling objects, and thus not required to have a pilot onboard. He also touted the stunt as being in the public interest, promoting STEM education and aviation careers and motivating people to achieve their dreams.
The FAA ultimately disagreed, writing that the only legal way for the stunt to take place would be with a pilot at the controls of each plane throughout. But the cousins went ahead with the stunt anyway. During the swap, Farrington failed to get into the plane in time — he was forced to abandon the attempt and land using his parachute, while the plane crashed into the desert. Thankfully, the safety planning worked out and nobody was hurt.
As we’ve learned from YouTube dingus Trevor Jacob intentionally crashing his plane for a video, the FAA does not take kindly to pilots who disobey the rules. After the Red Bull plane-swap crash, the agency launched an investigation and swiftly revoked both pilots’ licenses.
The FAA says the pilots violated three regulations: each pilot failed to have someone in the cockpit of the plane he was controlling, each pilot failed to see and avoid other aircraft, and each operated his plane in a careless or reckless manner.
Red Bull released a statement to the media that attempts to distance the company from any fallout over the stunt, despite the fact that it was undertaken with Red Bull sponsorship using two planes wrapped in Red Bull branding, and the footage was aired by Red Bull. “This is a matter between the Federal Aviation Administration and the two pilots,” Red Bull’s statement says. “Luke and Andy are courageous, highly skilled athletes who have been friends of Red Bull for many years and we look forward to their continued friendship.”
Aikins has admitted on his Instagram that, before the stunt, he received a warning from the FAA not to proceed, but he decided to do it anyway.
In addition to losing their licenses, the FAA proposed that Aikins pay $4,932 in fines. That’s a weird dollar amount, but it comes from a regulation that charges a civil penalty of up to $1,644 per violation of these regulations. Of course, like Trevor Jacob, both Aikins and Farrington will be able to apply for their pilots’ licenses to be reinstated next year.