Airplane with Tiger talk gone

FAA sends pilot home for repairs



The Federal Aviation Administration delivered a message of its own to a pilot who flew banners over the Masters Tournament mocking Tiger Woods: Fix it or forget it.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said Friday that two flight safety inspectors met with the pilot and inspected the plane Thursday. They determined the pilot had the proper paperwork to fly but that before the plane can carry more banners it needs repairs involving a seat belt and "minor mechanical issues," Bergen said.

The pilot was given two options: Get it fixed locally or fly it back to its home base in Ohio -- a practice known as ferrying.

"The pilot did get the necessary ferry permit (on Friday)," Bergen said, and with it "you can only fly from point A to point B for repairs."

Bergen said the single-engine Cessna is registered to Drake Aerial Enterprises LLC, doing business as Air America Aerial Ads, based in Genoa, Ohio. She said that under FAA rules she couldn't release the pilot's name.

Bergen said the plane flew out of Saluda County Airport in South Carolina, about 43 driving miles northeast of Augusta National Golf Club.

Harry Frady, the chairman of the commission that oversees the county-owned airport, said he received a call from the banner-towing company Wednesday and told the person to contact the airport's base operator.

"If the base operator agreed to it, I got nothing to say," he said. "As to what a banner can say, I guess that comes under the First Amendment."

A worker who answered the airport's phone Friday wouldn't give his name but said officials there assumed the plane was headed to the beach to fly an ad. The worker said the company has not made any other requests to fly from Saluda this week.

During Thursday's Masters round, the plane displayed two banners at different times. The first said: "Tiger: Did you mean Bootyism?" The second read: "Sex addict? Yeah. Right. Sure. Me too."

The FAA got involved, Bergen said, after air-traffic officials in Augusta expressed concern.

"It was strictly internal," she said. The FAA's key concern in such cases is safety, she said, noting that it doesn't regulate banner messages.

Air America Aerial Ads charges $300 to $1,200 an hour to fly banners and has been flying banners over NASCAR events since 1983, according to its Web site.

Jason Howe, an employee of Air America, told The Associated Press on Friday that the plane's only problem was a seat belt that didn't meet FAA standards.

Bergen said, however, that there were also some minor mechanical issues that weren't a threat to the plane's safe flight back to Ohio but would be cause for concern for towing banners over a large crowd.

Howe wouldn't say who paid for the banners, and messages left Friday for company President Jim Miller weren't immediately returned.

On Thursday, Miller said he couldn't talk to a reporter because "I'm about to get in an airplane to do some towing right now."

Bergen said Friday that Miller wasn't the one flying the two-seater plane.

There's no airspace restriction over Augusta National, but because of increased flights in and out of local airports during the Masters the FAA has issued an advisory asking pilots not to fly within two nautical miles of the tournament and not below 2,500 feet in that area. Bergen said Friday that there has been no talk of making the advisory mandatory.