Midair Collision over Hudson Provides Tragic Reminder that Airplanes and Helicopters Don't Mix Well, According to Aviation Law Expert

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San Mateo attorney Mike Danko explains basic "see and avoid" collision avoidance method used in uncontrolled areas, risks inherent in such situations

Many people are surprised to learn that the method used to prevent collisions in such uncontrolled areas is called 'see and avoid,'

The tragic accident that occurred above the Hudson River in New York on August 8th, in which nine people were killed when a small aircraft collided in midair with a helicopter, served as a graphic illustration of the serious dangers inherent when airplanes and helicopters share the same airspace.

According to Mike Danko, an experienced pilot and attorney who specializes in aviation law disputes, there are many places in the U.S. where pilots are permitted to fly without being supervised or controlled in any way. One such area is near the Statue of Liberty in New York's Hudson River. As long as the pilot stays below 1,100 feet -- outside the airspace used by airliners -- the pilot doesn't need a clearance, doesn't need to have filed a flight plan, and doesn't need to communicate with any tower or other air traffic control facility.

"Many people are surprised to learn that the method used to prevent collisions in such uncontrolled areas is called 'see and avoid,'" explained Danko, who has represented clients in a number of cases arising from midair collisions. "The pilot is supposed to look out his or her window, 'see' the other aircraft and 'avoid' them. Though this method of collision avoidance may sound primitive, over the years it has worked well."

According to Danko, who has also represented clients in cases arising from helicopter tour operations, the problem is that helicopters and airplanes don't mix well in a "see and avoid" environment.

"Helicopters fly slower than airplanes, and because they have a small cross section, they are hard to spot -- especially when viewed from directly behind," said Danko, who is also editor of the popular Aviation Law Monitor blog. "That puts them at risk of being rear-ended. It doesn't help matters that helicopters tend to maneuver in a fashion that most airplane pilots find to be unpredictable. Unfortunately, when both a helicopter and airplane are headed to the same spot, or are both looking at the same feature on the ground, the risks of collision can be serious."

For more information about the Danko Law Firm, please visit http://www.dankolaw.com or call 650.342.6100.


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