Why Landing An Amphib On The Mississippi Must Be Protected

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Given current affairs, St. Louis must be an island of calm in a troubled world, a place where things are so peaceful that the slightest deviation from whatever the norm is there, an emergency response is warranted. 

So, I think it was with a sense of amusement shared by many of our readers that we carried the story of Icon Aircraft sales rep Rick Rief’s apparently successful attempts to introduce the sporty little A5 amphib to the heartland. Unfortunately, it’s a little less funny now and may warrant some intervention from groups who care about our collective access to the national airspace.

As you may recall, Rief did pretty well showing off the A5 at the St. Louis Boat Show and lined up a half-dozen demo flights for some likely prospects. Converting one of those to a sale would likely be a pretty good payday. So, as any enterprising salesman would, he made the most of his short time with his clients, showing them the beautiful Mississippi waterfront of the gateway to the West and using the arch that symbolizes the city’s place in history as a spectacular backdrop to the demo of its water landing capabilities. Sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it?

And since that’s the whole marketing concept behind the A5, it should have been a beautiful thing.

Instead, Rief was greeted with anxious first responders who were answering numerous calls from well-meaning bystanders who clearly had never seen an amphibious aircraft doing what it does. 

Rief did all the right things. Before he went flying, he told St. Louis controllers he was exercising his well-documented right to fly along the waterfront and land on the mighty Mississippi. They could not object even if they had wanted to because the flights Rief planned were 100 percent compliant with all the regs.

But civically minded folks called 911 because they didn’t understand the spectacle before them. There should have been numerous clues that things were alright, like the aircraft that had just plunged into the water lifting off again, but I digress.

When greeted by the brave suited-up men and women who mostly respond to real emergencies, he did the right thing again. He gave them a schedule of his forthcoming flights. The local media ate it all up and the resulting publicity may have even landed him a few more demos. 

But that’s where it went a little sideways and while Rief continues to do what seems to be the right thing, the alphabet groups (AOPA, EAA, NBAA, etc.) might want to step in to explain why he really shouldn’t have to.

Even though Rief was one of the most talked about people in town for a couple of days and his aircraft’s capabilities and the safe conduct of flights in airspace that he was clearly using legally were thoroughly explained in the most public ways possible, there were those who weren’t listening and watching.

So when Rief and a potential customer settled smoothly on Old Man River the next day, the switchboards lit up again. Even though they knew that Rief and his passenger were engaged in a legal, safe and harmless activity backed by federal and state law, the local authorities asked him to stop because of the disruption he was inadvertently causing.

I get the fire department’s beef. It can’t ignore the calls and while its members are watching Rief and his customers climbing harmlessly into the airspace in which they were legally welcome, they might be missing something that is actually a threat to the public.

Rief might be a little more gracious than me and he agreed to cooperate with the fire department. He’ll skip the arch and the beautiful downtown waterfront and demonstrate water landings where fewer people congregate and can instantly hit their always-available panic buttons.

It might seem like a small concession to keeping the peace in the community where he hopes to sell a few airplanes but that’s missing the point, a point that is not his responsibility to press.

Available airspace has been shrinking steadily, mostly to assuage absurd fears about the public threat of responsibly operated and highly regulated GA aircraft.

If Rief can’t land on the river, where else might it become inconvenient? Worse still, what if the serene folks of St. Louis determine that something like a 1600-pound amphib doing what it does best should be illegal?

Rief should also be concerned about the message his compliance sends to his clients. Using the spectacular setting of the launching point of an unmatched period of adventure, enterprise and prosperity in American history was a natural marketing move.

Now, his prospective clients might wonder if the Plan B of landing up river foreshadows the hassles they might be facing as legal and responsible operators of the aircraft.

It’s too much to expect Rief, his customers and Icon to shoulder the burden of fighting this unjustified restriction on the freedom to use that airspace.

Alphabets check in please.