Harrison Ford Gets to Keep Flying After Nearly Landing on Top of an American Airlines 737

In February Harrison Ford, piloting his plane, landed on a taxiway instead of a runway and just missed coming down on top of an American Airlines Boeing 737 bound for Dallas.

In air traffic control audio of the incident he calls himself a schmuck.

Shockingly he “retains his pilot’s certificate without restriction” after the FAA determined “no administrative or enforcement action was warranted.” However he will “undergo voluntary ‘airman counseling’.”

Implausibly, “Ford’s attorney also told news organizations that Ford didn’t receive special treatment because he is a celebrity.” The actor has crashed and run off the runway before, but he gets to keep flying.

Celebrities it seems very much get to fly like the political class.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t know the specifics of his case, but I know that I nearly had an accident once landing a single-engine airplane on Runway 20L at Orange County. An airliner had been cleared into the small space between the two runways and just as I was about to land they had been cleared to taxi into position on runway 20R. Spooling up their engines created jet wash that nearly upset my plane just before touchdown. I complained loudly to the tower, but obviously nothing has been done.

    There have been similar incidents at the exact same point that ended badly. Personally, I feel the tight runway configuration at Orange County is dangerous and aircraft should not be able to hold between the runways near the approach end.

  2. Uh, I really don’t think he got any special treatment. The FAA is really lenient with this sort of thing – even when you put other people’s lives at risk the punishment is light. This is a great read about a pilot who absolutely should have been grounded – responsible for deaths, finally killed himself:


    The FAA is similar to any other licensing body – think it’s easy to get a physician’s license yanked for being a bad doctor? No way!

  3. Hold on one cotton-pickin’ minute. ATPs have landed on the wrong runway and even at the wrong danged airport! People make mistakes. Millions of people have had car accidents that were plainly their own fault. Unless it was due to drunk driving, no one clamors for their license to be revoked even when those accidents result in serious injury or loss of life. People engage in “distracted driving” all the time. It is only through the grace of God they haven’t killed anyone. So y’all who live in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones.

    For a private pilot who is unfortunate enough to have a serious accident, the worst thing is that not only are you and your passengrs likely dead but, to add insult to injury, the NTSB will issue a public report that says you were stupid too.

  4. Gary from the wing… I’m a pilot (ex 747/corporate jet capt and fly small airplanes a lot)

    I know you think you are an authority on aviation because you shoehorn yourself in to a first class seat to gorge yourself for hours and collect miles like the rest of us. I assure you, you are not an authority on actual flying.

    He did not even come close to landing on the airliner. I watched the video and am very familiar with SNA. The crash he had in Santa Monica was, I believe, due to an engine failure. Landing on a taxi way is a surprising faux pas but not a terrible incident. I am not blindly defending a fellow pilot.

    You are not an expert on aviation and have no right to judge pilots. Ever. I know it’s sad to be told that isn’t it? Obviously you won’t believe me. Try at least?

  5. Pilots stick together, bureaucracies gonna bureaucracy as well, but considering the number of serious mistakes he’s made as a pilot or at least incidents he’s been involved in and at age 74 he has no business retaining his license. Period.

    No amount of personal insult of me will change that.

    (And there are plenty of commercial pilots who shouldn’t be flying as well.)

  6. Gary,

    You said “considering the number of serious mistakes he’s made as a pilot”

    OK would you mind providing a list? Because you’ve just made a serious and unsubstantiated allegation and as a journalist/blogger you need to back that statement up.

    Do pilots stick together? Of course we share a common bond just like I imagine you share a common bond with fellow travel bloggers. But as a commercial pilot who takes very seriously the safety of the lives entrusted to me I’m not about to make excuses for or ignore someone who is clearly and blatantly unsafe.

    I look forward to your list of Mr. Ford’s transgressions.

  7. For those who want to dismiss the seriousness of the incident, the American Airlines captain is heard on ATC audio noting the height of his 737’s tail, “You get an idea how close we were”

    The 74 year old Harrison Ford said he “got distracted”

    His 2015 crash was engine failure, the crash investigation doesn’t attribute that to a mistake in piloting, but that doesn’t absolve him either, he chose to take up the World War II-era aircraft 17 years since the engine’s restoration, certified only for several months past the crash. The carburetor’s main metering jet was “unscrewed from its seat and rotated 90 degrees” and an “improperly installed shoulder harness” contributed to the severity of Ford’s injuries.

    In 2000 he went off the runway in Lincoln, Nebraska in a gust of wind. He rolled a helicopter on its side in ’99.

  8. Gary, while we can all acknowledge that you fly many miles in first class that doesn’t make you an expert in aviation safety or airport security. Let pilots/ATCs and intelligence/DHS professionals handle these topics with appropriate executive and congressional scrunity.

  9. Ah… Gary. “Plenty of commercial pilots shouldn’t be flying as well”

    Yes of course…the FAA has been waiting for you to deal with such transgressions of safety. Also the major and regional airlines also.

    You know better apparently, you can pass judgement on pilots. I have flown with a 74 year old in a corporate jet training environment who I thought wow…this is gonna be rough. He was a consummate professional who handled every emergency in the book thrown brutally at him by the instructor in the simulator. I was humbled as a pilot half his age. Are all 74 yr old pilots sharp… No. But…

    Are you justified in your judgments of “nearly hitting a 737” when he passed hundreds of feet above, which I have done countless times legally and safely in a large transport category aircraft, not a tiny Husky? Er… Nope.

    Has something happened in your life recently…. You seem much more obnoxious and combative?

  10. Apparently if you fly first class occasionally you lose your right to opinions. Sheesh.

    Given the hundreds of people a day that die in car accidents and the vastly more that get into less serious accidents, I’m thinking that a dude in a Cessna making a mistake at an airport is pretty minor. Even with his 3-4 other incidents taken into account.

    I’m thinking there are many other things in this world worth worrying about that are more important than one guy keeping or losing his pilot’s license.

  11. I am a CFII—FAA talk for a certified flight instructor, airplane and instrument (I can teach pilots to fly in instrument flight conditions). I have been a CFII since 1981. With respect, and I have a lot of respect for Gary Leff, I disagree w/Gary’s original post, and his “replies” to other aviation professionals “replies” in response to his post.

    I think the professional and amateur pilots who have posted are trying to share their perception of the safety hazards of this mistake, and the continued licensing of the 74 year old Harrison Ford way more than they are a gang w/matching sweaters looking our for other pilots.

    Gary’s list of Ford’s prior “bad acts” is lame. Ford had an engine failure and Gary suggests negligence for Ford flying a WWII aircraft that was legally certified to fly at the time the engine failed…uh-oh, no more WWII aircraft allowed in airshows from here on out.

    Ford went off a runway 17 years ago w/a gust of wind !? and rolled a helicopter, no context provided, 18 years ago….I think the FAA made the right call on this one.

  12. @Andy; @121Pilot; @BigBird:
    Gary is a blogger with a knack for finding the best way for people (wait a minute, @BigBird…nevermind) to minimize the expense and inconvenience of travelling and staying in hotels. As an airline passenger and hotel customer, I would say his opinions are valid.
    His opinion on whether a 70+ year old should be piloting a plane is nearly irrelevant other than to remind us that commercial pilots have legal age restrictions. Nobody takes those comments seriously. What we do take seriously is the importance of takeoff’s and landings, including taxiing a plane on a crowded runway in crowded airspace, where fender benders make national headlines.
    Also, as a passenger, I would prefer a seat in the cargo class on a plane with the over-aged, over-paid, over-educated pilot at the 70 year old airline over a first class seat at the upstart airline. His blog greatly improves my chance of getting that choice at a reasonable or low cost.
    As for the former pilot of the Millennium Falcom landing on the taxi-way, well, I’m surprised he didn’t blame it on Chewbacca.

  13. Harrison Ford, who will be 75 years old this July, has a history of bad judgment and air accidents. His judgment isn’t going to get better with age. His next accident may will kill himself along with others. Celebrity has always given special treatment.

  14. Gary,

    Its my feeling based on the tone of the article you wrote and your responses that you have it out for Mr. Ford and your reporting on him is biased. It’s your blog you can do as you please but this article is beneath you and should be pulled.

    But let’s look at Mr. Fords accident history.


    We have the recent incident where he landed on a taxi way. This happens even to commercial Crews flying glass cockpit aircraft and while it’s not acceptable and may merit disciplinary action in some cases I’m not aware of it leading to a certificate revocation in the absence of other factors as you seem to feel it should with Mr. Ford.

    We have his March 2015 incident that no reasonable person should attribute to pilot error and the NTSB in its findings did not find fault with his handling of the aircraft. The problems with the engine and shoulder harness would not have been apparent during a preflight inspection so we can’t in any way fault him for those. You seem to suggest his judgment was faulty for flying an aircraft of that vintage in the first place which is again utterly unfair. Would you suggest all aircraft over a certain age should be grounded period? Or that those who choose to fly them are automatically guilty of bad judgement?

    Then we have his June 2000 landing incident for which there is no NTSB report and only vague news reports. The aircraft seems to have only suffered minor damage and it is certainly possible that he was hit by winshear as he reported during the landing that exceeded the limits of the aircraft. In the absence of more information it’s hard to draw the line on this one between bad judgement or bad technique or an act of god.

    Lastly we have his Oct 99 incident while receiving flight instruction in a Bell 206. A fair judgement here would assign ultimate blame to the instructor who is there precisely because the student requires training and is always ultimately responsible for the safe conduct of the flight.

    So over a nearly 20 year period we have at most 2 incidents that can be attributed to pilot error on Mr. Fords part.

    It hardly seems fair then to conclude that Mr. Ford is getting special treatment (again errors like his happen and are usually dealt with without grounding) nor that there is anything the would require a certificate revocation.

    As I said at the start the facts here, your original post, and the tone of your responses give a strong impression of personal bias and animus to Mr. Ford. I think that’s unfair, I think your original post was unfair and if accuracy and truth matter to you it should be pulled.

  15. If anything I’m a lifelong fan of his work. I think my comments are consistent with the facts, and now that he’s in his mid-70s it seems like he should hang up his wings.

  16. @GLeff, Your post/comments are consistent with the facts as you know them and understand them. Others who disagree with your post are saying you don’t know the facts and are insufficiently trained to arrive at your conclusion. You did not investigate the incidents to know all of the facts. While you are entitled to an opinion, pilots and aviation safety experts have the training and experience to understand the facts and evaluate the situation. That is not personal.

    Although I also do not know Ford as a person or an aviator, unless he is a complete idiot, the few incidents he has been involved in during the thousands of hours he has flown as pilot in command have likely make him a better pilot. Most of the private pilots who would be at the top of the list for having a license pulled have had no accidents…yet. The adage about old pilots and bold pilots is a good one.

    Without evidence of an impairment that makes Ford unqualified to fly, his age is as irrelevant as his race, gender, or sexual orientation.

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