After a small airplane was recently used to crash into an Internal Revenue Service building in Texas, some may question the wisdom of allowing passengers to sit next to the pilot of small airline carriers.
However, in the case of Cape Air, which makes regular commercial flights in and out of Williamson County Regional Airport in Marion, the practice is perfectly legal and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The airline flies 10-seater Cessna 402 planes and frequently sells the right front seat - next to the pilot - to passengers.
The company is allowed to do so according to its FAA certificate, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said.
"Each airline must have approval from the FAA in order to operate. That approval comes in the form of a ‘certificate,' which is granted after the airline meets numerous regulatory requirements," she said. "The FAA also tailors some requirements to the spe-cific airline: what planes it flies, what routes it flies, etc."
The requirements, or operations specifications, of Cape Air allow it to sell the right front seat, she said.
"That company is authorized to put passengers in the right front seat. The seat next to the pilot may be occupied during flight," she said.
Cape Air spokeswoman Michelle Haynes said the seat is coveted by many passengers.
"Everybody loves that seat. We call it the ‘bird's eye view.' Somebody is allowed to sit in that seat every day, everywhere we fly, and they have been for 20 years. It's an amazing view," she said. "There has never been a safety issue with it. All passengers go through TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) security before they board."
Cape Air flights to and from Marion are also authorized to fly single pilot, Cory said.
"The open cabin aircraft are small and beneath the threshold for requiring a cockpit door. No co-pilot is required," she said.
David NewMeyer, chairman of the Southern Illinois University Aviation Department, said the aircraft can be easily flown by a single pilot. And while someone with nefarious plans could theoretically hijack control of the plane, the sale of the right front seat is not a huge threat to the flying public, he said.
"It doesn't bother me. It's pretty far out there to think anything like that could happen on a routine basis," he said.
Pilots are also trained to counteract such threats, he said.
"I understand the concern, but how far do you go to try and control something so that nothing happens," he said. "It's a tough issue."