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FAA revokes licenses from pilots after failed plane swap stunt

▶ Watch Video: Federal authorities investigating botched plane swap stunt

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday it has revoked the licenses of two daredevil pilots who attempted to switch planes in midair while flying over the Arizona desert, causing one of the planes to crash. One pilot was able to complete the stunt, organized by Red Bull, while the other pilot ended up landing safely by parachute.   

The FAA said cousins Luke Aikins and Andy Farrington violated federal aviation regulations, which prohibit the reckless operation of an aircraft and mandates flight crew members be in the appropriate places and positions upon takeoff and landing. 

According to an investigation into the April 24 incident, Aikins and Farrington piloted two Cessna 182 model aircrafts in Eloy, roughly 65 miles southeast of Phoenix. While mid-flight, the pilots unfastened their seatbelts and attempted to perform a plane swap by skydiving from one aircraft to the other as both planes dived vertically, the FAA said. Aikins was able to complete the stunt but Farrington was unable to make it into Aikins’ aircraft, which subsequently crashed.

Pilot Luke Aikins is seen successfully entering the silver plane, during Plane Swap in Eloy, Arizona on April 24, 2022.

Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

Aikins and Farrington are accused of operating their planes carelessly or recklessly “so as to endanger the life or property of another.”

According to Red Bull, the plane swap event was to make history as the first time two pilots took off in one plane while landing in another. The stunt, which was live-streamed on Hulu, involved “hundreds of people” and took around a year to prepare for, the company said. 

Two days ahead of the stunt, the FAA denied a petition from Aikins that would have allowed the pilots to be exempt from certain aviation rules. Regulators determined that granting an exemption “would not be in the public interest” and said the proposition would “adversely affect safety.”

Aikins, who was the project’s leader and chief pilot, admitted that he received the denied petition beforehand but that he “made the personal decision to move forward with plane swap.”

“I regret not sharing this information with my team and those who supported me,” he said on social media days after the failed stunt. “It was entirely my responsibility to operate within the regulatory framework to ensure a successful outcome.”

Aikins and Farrington, who Red Bull says have completed over 5,000 jumps together, are required to immediately turn in their commercial pilot certificates, master parachute rigger certificates and any other certificates, according to the FAA. The two are not allowed to apply for a new airman certificate and will not be eligible to have one issued for one year. 

Should the cousins not surrender their certificates immediately, they will each be ordered to pay up to $1,644 every day and face other legal enforcement action until they do, the FAA said. Aikins and Farrington are able to appeal the orders. 



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