BREAKING: FAA Grounds Red Bull “Plane Swap” Pilots

By Spyros Georgilidakis | May 12, 2022

The FAA demands that both pilots who took part in the Plane Swap event less than three weeks ago, surrender their commercial pilot licenses.

On Sunday, the 24th of April, Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington performed what should have been a cool stunt. Things didn’t go exactly to plan, but it soon emerged that this wasn’t the only problem. In fact, it may not have been the biggest problem. We learned that Luke Aikins, whose company organized this project, did not get a key waiver from the FAA.

BREAKING: FAA Grounds Red Bull “Plane Swap” Pilots
The blue 182 just before its crash. Photo: Keith Ladzinski / Red Bull Content Pool

And this is why both Plane Swap pilots are now in the sights of the FAA. According to media reports, the FAA issued Emergency Orders of Revocation for both pilots. This is the same process that the FAA used for Trevor Jacob, who deliberately crashed an aircraft for YouTube views. But there are a couple of important differences here.


Plane Swap – Two Commercial Pilots

Firstly, the FAA acted much faster in this case. Trevor Jacob performed his stunt in November, publicizing the self-incriminating video in late December. He got his emergency revocation order on the 11th of April. The Plane Swap pilots got their revocation orders less than 20 days after the Red Bull-sponsored stunt.

The two aircraft. Photo: Chris Tedesco / Red Bull Content Pool

Secondly, unlike Trevor Jacob, who apparently had a Private Pilot’s Certificate, the two Plane Swap pilots are reportedly Commercial Pilot License holders. So the FAA’s order could have further repercussions for them, depending on their other activities. As of this writing, it doesn’t appear that Luke Aikins has commented on this development.

Immediately after the Plane Swap event, some pointed out that the FAA might have allowed it to go ahead with a later document. But this theory soon evaporated, when Luke Aikins went on social media to own up. He said firstly, that he knew that he did not have the FAA’s blessing. And secondly, he claimed that he and only he knew about this. He stated that he had not informed either Andy Farrington or his sponsor about the FAA’s waiver denial.

BREAKING: FAA Grounds Red Bull “Plane Swap” Pilots
Luke Aikins. Photo: Chris Tedesco / Red Bull Content Pool


Who’s Flying The Plane?

The rule that both Plane Swap pilots were seeking an exemption from, was § 91.105(a)(1) of Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR). In a nutshell, this says that a pilot should always be in control of the aircraft. Obviously, this wouldn’t work for the stunt, since the idea was to have each pilot flying a Cessna 182, solo, then parachute away from it, and swap planes. As we have already explained, the two aircraft featured extensive modifications, to make all this possible.

Luke Aikins entering the second aircraft. Photo: Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

In its waiver denial, the FAA had hinted that the stunt might have needed waivers (or more information) relating to other regulations. It appears that the FAA is charging the two Plane Swap pilots for a total of three regulation breaches. These include the “be at the crewmember station” rule mentioned above. They also include acting in a “careless and reckless” manner.

The FAA can’t prosecute pilots for their actions. But it can revoke licenses, which is what it is doing here. And it is also proposing a $4,932 fine for Luke Aikins, for “abandoning his pilot’s seat and operating an aircraft in a reckless manner”. Both pilots can appeal the FAA’s revocation orders. However, they still need to surrender their licenses, while they wait for the appeal’s results.


Check out the Mentour Now! video below, for more information on the event:

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