Mid-air collision raises safety concerns for military and civilian aircraft sharing airspace

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The mid-air collision between an F-16 fighter jet and a General Aviation Cessna 150 that occurred this morning about 11 miles north of Charleston, South Carolina, raises long-standing concerns about the military and civilian aircraft flying in the same airspace. The Cessna took off from the Berkeley County Airport in South Carolina and was reportedly en route to Myrtle Beach. The Pentagon reported that the F-16 took off from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. Two people in the Cessna were presumed dead; the F-16 pilot ejected and was apparently not injured. The NTSB launched an investigation and sent an investigator to the scene.

Although it is too early to speculate on the reasons for the crash, civilian planes, especially general aviation, operating in the same airspace as military planes have been a safety concern for many years. This is especially true when general aviation and military fighter jets share the same airspace due to the different performance characteristics of fighter jets compared to small civilian jets like the Cessna 150. The questions investigators are likely to ask. to be examined are as follows: involved authorized to be in the airspace where the take-off occurred? Some airspaces are permanently or temporarily restricted to military use and civil aircraft would not be allowed to fly there. If the military aircraft was in civilian airspace, what was the pilot doing at the time of the collision and immediately prior to it? If early testimonies indicate the fighter plane overtook the Cessna, investigators will focus on the pilot’s workload that may have kept him from seeing and avoiding the smaller plane. For example, fighter planes have a lot of high-tech instruments that require pilots to look “upside down” in the cockpit. This could be a factor if the fighter pilot had not seen the Cessna 150.

Another area that accident investigators should focus on will be air traffic control communications, where applicable. Was one or both of the aircraft in communication with air traffic control, and if not, should they have been? Should the accident occur in civilian airspace, the military aircraft would be required to comply with FAA regulations for operations in that airspace. Depending on where the Cessna was flying, it might not be necessary to be in communication with controllers, but it’s something investigators will want to know.

The FAA and the military have taken significant steps to reduce the possibility of mid-air collisions between civilian and military aircraft. These include standard air traffic control procedures between military and civilian controllers and between military and civilian pilots. Although mid-air collisions are rare, it will be important to determine if proper procedures were in place and followed during this accident to prevent future accidents.


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