RENO, Nev. (AP) — The head of the Reno Air Races Association said Thursday he expects to secure the required $100 million in insurance and all the permits needed to run the 50th annual national championships in September, despite a deadly plane crash at the event last year.
But a longtime critic of air race safety told an airport authority panel that officials are moving too fast in the wake of the wreck that killed 11 people and injured more than 70.
Mark Daniels, a former Army helicopter mechanic and air traffic controller, was the only person to speak during a public comment session Thursday at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. He said the races should be put on hold until more is known about a recurring problem with P-51 Mustangs like the vintage one that crashed in front of VIP boxes and sent shrapnel into the crowd last year.
The Reno races are the only ones of their type held anywhere in the world. A group of planes flies wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet off the sagebrush at speeds sometimes surpassing 500 mph. Pilots follow an oval path around pylons, with distances and speeds depending on the class of aircraft.
The deadly crash at the 2011 races was captured on video and appeared on television and the Internet. The footage showed the souped-up World War II-era warbird climbing sharply upward at more than 400 mph, then rolling and plunging nose-first into spectators.
The wreck prompted calls that officials consider ending the event.
Association President Mike Houghton said earlier this month that organizers are committed to holding this year's races and have already booked "some world-class performers to help us welcome back the world's greatest pilots." He added the association has enlisted a panel of experts to help ensure the event's safety.
The panel is to report back later this winter with any recommended revisions.