An aviation expert says Harrison Ford could lose his pilot license after committing “a very major violation” by mistakenly landing his plane on a taxiway instead of a runway at an Orange County, California, airport on Monday.
“The FAA considers that a very major violation of the federal air regulations,” Captain Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines pilot and CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, tells PEOPLE. “They are going to go after him basically to take his license away. Fortunately for him, no one was hurt.”
Ford is currently under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration after he inadvertently landed his Aviat Husky aircraft on a taxiway at the John Wayne Airport, flying over a taxiing American Airlines departing flight with 116 people onboard.
A rep for Ford had no comment.
Aimer says the repercussions for the incident could range in severity, adding that violations of federal air regulations can lead to punishments as severe as jail time. In Ford’s case, he explains, a license suspension is the most likely outcome. Aimer also notes that – similar to vehicular violations – Ford can retain a lawyer to argue his case. Possible lighter sanctions could include a temporary suspension, or remedial training.
The actor was reportedly piloting his single-engine plane when tower control gave him the go-ahead to land. But when Ford instead maneuvered toward a taxiway, his plane flew dangerously close to an American Airlines departing flight with 116 passengers on board. Although the FAA confirmed the incident to PEOPLE, it would not specify the name of the pilot involved due to policy.
“Obviously, nobody does that deliberately,” Aimer tells PEOPLE of Ford’s mistake, adding, “John Wayne Airport is an extremely busy airport. There’s kind of a lethal mixture of commercial airplanes, commercial jets and private airplanes in that airport, that’s why it makes it a unique airport and extremely busy.”
Although Aimer says it’s hard to speculate what happened in the cockpit, he explains that it’s not unusual for a pilot to rely on one’s eyes “rather than your instrument and your instincts.”
“I think he must have relied on his eyes, and his eyes lied to him,” Aimer offers. “Experienced pilots, we look for visual clues or instruments to back up what our eyes are telling us. I’m afraid he didn’t have that luxury. He was by himself. That’s why you always see in a commercial jet there’s always two pilots. There’s two sets of eyes that are watching each other.”
He also finds it unusual that Ford didn’t attempt to “go around” after he saw the passenger flight. “He missed that very, very crucial, important clue: ‘Why was that jetliner in my way?’ ” says Aimer.
Dr. Allan Parmet, a senior aviation medical examiner with Aero Consulting Experts, tells PEOPLE that the mistake “is easy to make, but also easy to correct.” Parmet notes, however, that Ford’s “ability to see the runway could’ve been impaired” due to the way the aircraft’s engine sits on the front of the plane.
While airline pilots are required to have a first-class medical examination — which includes mental-capability tests — Aimer says Ford likely is only required to do what’s called a third-class medical examination. The third-class medical examination does not, Aimer says, test mental capability.
According to the FAA registry database, Ford renewed his private pilot’s license on Jan. 30.
Ford has been involved in several piloting accidents in the past. The most serious was in 2015, when he crash-landed at a Santa Monica golf course after encountering engine trouble. Ford, who was flying a yellow vintage fighter plane, suffered a broken arm and lacerations to his scalp.