Kadena Aero Club returns to air after mishap
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The Kadena Aero Club was to begin limited flights Friday with increased pilot and safety oversight after concluding an investigation into a mishap involving a pilot error, officials said.
An Air Force investigation into the Oct. 24 incident found the pilot was forced to land in a sugar cane field in Nago City after he failed to refuel the Cessna 172 before leaving Amami Island to return to Kadena Air Base.
No one was seriously injured. However, U.S. government-owned planes belonging to the Aero Club were grounded following the accident amid concern from Okinawa officials and residents.
Under the limited flight operations, qualified Aero Club flight instructors were "to regain proficiency in their core tasks" and will be required to fly with at least one additional instructor, according to a release Wednesday from Kadena’s 18th Wing.
Student training in designated local training areas — which include airspace around White Beach, and southern and northern parts of Nago Bay — is expected to resume Jan. 10, the release said.
Normal flight operations and cross-country flights — those going more than 50 miles from Kadena — will be reinstated Feb. 1, the release said.
The Aero Club also implemented additional safety measures for pilots, including mandatory aircraft refueling for flights more than 90 minutes from the air base. Other measures to be taken include paying greater attention to fuel-consumption rates, navigation logs and preflight paperwork for all cross-country flights.
Investigation results, released earlier this month, reported the pilot had not properly gauged how much fuel was needed for the round-trip flight from Kadena to Amami Island — failing to consider that fuel burns at different rates depending on altitude, takeoff, climbing and weather conditions.
The plane — also carrying three other Americans — developed engine failure and later caused a temporary power outage in the Makiya district in Nago when it struck several electrical lines during its emergency landing.
The new procedures should help curb future chances for mishaps, 18th Wing spokesman Maj. John Hutcheson told Stars and Stripes.
"This accident was primary pilot error. That being said, we took a hard look at all our Aero Club practices, processes and procedures, and we’re making some improvements where necessary," Hutcheson said.
Officials have identified the pilot only as an Air Force lieutenant colonel. It has not been determined whether Okinawa police — with jurisdiction in the matter — will seek charges against the pilot.
The Air Force has not announced whether it will impose disciplinary action, Hutcheson said.
Nago Deputy Mayor Bunshin Suematsu said he welcomes the new safety measures, but said restricting military-related flights over Nago neighborhoods is the best way to prevent future accidents.
"We strongly ask the military to avoid flying over residential areas," he said Wednesday in a statement to Stars and Stripes.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.
New safety measures at Kadena Aero Club
Eliminate use of "estimated fuel burn rates" for flights.Require aircraft refueling at all islands more than 90 minutes flight time from Kadena Air Base.Require navigation logs be used as flight planning tools for cross-country flights and require that reviewing officials will check the logs before flights.Require a review official to check preflight paperwork before cross-country flights.Require cross-country training flight with Aero Club instructor before club member can take a plane outside the local training area, and cross-country checkout for members not trained at Kadena Aero Club.Provide for instructors to reemphasize to members how fuel-burn rates can differ depending on altitude, temperature, RPM settings and other criteria.Require preflight reading of safety information on special situations unique to Japanese airspace and local club flying.Increase awareness of appropriate emergency airfields within the island flying region for all members and review that information during monthly safety meetings and before any student training flight.Source: Kadena Air Base 18th Wing