Plane flying banners catches FAA's attention

Inspectors plan to check credentials

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to have a word with the pilot who flew over Augusta National on Thursday, trailing banners poking fun at Tiger Woods' sex scandal.

The agency is sending two aviation safety inspectors to meet with the pilot of the single-engine Cessna and the company behind the stunt, apparently an aerial advertiser from Ohio.

Kathleen Bergen, an FAA spokeswoman, said the agency received calls about the banners and would send inspectors to check whether the pilot and company had appropriate credentials.

"We will ensure that the operator had banner-towing authorization for that area," she said.

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."

Bergen said "the FAA does not regulate messages on the banners, period. The FAA's role is related to aviation safety."

She said there's no airspace restriction over Augusta National, but because of increased flights in and out of local airports during the Masters, the FAA issues a non-mandatory advisory asking pilots not to fly within two nautical miles of the tournament and not below 2,500 feet in that area.

Judging from reports the agency received, Bergen said, the plane appeared to be flying at the appropriate altitude.

Thursday afternoon, Bergen said she didn't yet have the pilot's name or know which airport the plane flew from, but the agency thought the plane was owned by an Ohio-based company.

Several factors pointed toward Air America Aerial Ads in Genoa, Ohio.

Workers at Aiken Municipal Airport said that a week ago they turned down an out-of-town man's request to fly a plane with a banner from their airport, presumably toward the Masters Tournament.

The same workers said the man told them he planned to fly a total of six banners. The workers, who refused to give their names, identified the man as Jim Miller.

Reached on his cell phone Thursday, Miller refused to comment, but said, "I'm about to get in an airplane to do some towing right now." That was after the appearance of the first banner and before the second.

The voice mail message on Miller's cell phone says he works for Air America Aerial Ads.

A secretary for the company would not say whether the company was involved in the banner stunt, and referred questions to Miller; the secretary said Miller is company president.

The secretary, who also refused to give her name, said the company only flies banners at the request of paying clients.

As for what airport the plane used, Becky Shealy, the director of marketing for Augusta Aviation at Daniel Field Airport, said: "Nobody took off out of this airport with a banner behind their aircraft."

Diane Johnston, the marketing director for Augusta Regional Airport, said the same.