Harrison Ford Back in a Helicopter — as Expert Says Actor Came Within 100 Feet of Packed Jetliner During 'Near-Miss' Landing
Ford, 74, inadvertently landed on an active taxiway instead of the parallel runway he was cleared for last Monday at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, coming extremely close to an American Airlines flight with 116 people on board awaiting takeoff. The FAA has opened an investigation into the incident. In a video of the incident, Ford’s yellow single-engine Husky aircraft is seen flying over the American Airlines flight waiting to cross the runway he was cleared for.
“I estimate that he missed the aircraft by less than 100 feet,” Captain Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines pilot and CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, tells PEOPLE of Ford, who was spotted on Wednesday flying a helicopter in Los Angeles. “The highest point of that American Airlines 737 is about 41 feet from the ground and it looked like he was maybe twice as high as that point, so roughly around 80 or 85 feet.”
“He came uncomfortably and dangerously close on that landing — the video is pretty clear,” adds Aimer, who is not involved in the FAA investigation.
Aimer explains that Ford made an encroachment violation when flying so close to another aircraft. The expert says that aircrafts have about a radius of a mile around them that is considered their air space. If another pilot flies into that air space, the Federal Aviation Administration considers it a violation.
“Other than actually hitting the aircraft, this is the worst that it could’ve been in terms of encroachment violations,” Aimer says. “When you come within 100 feet, that’s extremely close — that is called a near-miss. Another 80 or so feet and he could’ve crashed into that plane. In terms of aviation, that’s extremely close.”
A spokesperson for the FAA confirmed to PEOPLE that it is opening an investigation into the incident, though it did not name the people involved. If Ford is found at fault, his private pilot’s license — which he uses to operate his vintage plane collection — could be suspended or even revoked, Aimer says.
“They can go for a revocation, which means he’d have to surrender his license, but there could also be a suspension of the license. The evidence is there, it’s up to the FAA to decide what they’re going to do about it,” adds Aimer. He adds that Ford can defend himself and has the advantage that no one was hurt during the incident.
“He was very lucky — everybody was,” Aimer says of the near-miss.
A rep for the actor had no comment.
Ford renewed his pilot’s license at the end of January and passed his last medical exam that cleared him to continue flying. The actor is due for another exam this summer. But the actor didn’t get his pilot’s license by attending a flight school — he learned how to fly through his friend and pilot.
“I didn’t start flying again until I was 54 when I realized I was getting bored sitting in the back of my Gulfstream,” Ford told Downwind in 2009. “I got excited about flying again and asked Terry Bender, the pilot of my Gulfstream, to teach me to fly.”
And Aimer says that having a private flight instructor is legal as long as the instructor is certified in the aircraft being used for the flying lessons. This meant that Ford just had to pass a two-part test — a written portion and then a practical — to obtain his license. Ford also had to pass a medical exam and then retake it every two years to keep it valid.
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.