Pilot fights for job after buzzing Paine Field

EVERETT — It was a unique sight at Paine Field a few weeks ago: a brand-new Boeing 777 buzzing just 30 feet or so above the runway.

The stunt has gotten wide attention in recent days after the owner of the new jet, Cathay Pacific Airways, announced the firing of the pilot who was behind the controls.

It’s not unprecedented for pilots taking delivery of new jets to take off from the Boeing delivery center at Paine Field and loop back around for a final lap above the airport.

“There have been a few of those in the past, but in the memory of anybody at Paine Field, this was the lowest one,” said Christopher Schwarzen, spokesman for Snohomish County, which owns and operates Paine Field.

Images of the stunt were posted on YouTube.com and on the Web site of Matt Cawby, a Mountlake Terrace plane spotter. On YouTube, search for “777” and “Paine.”

Capt. Ian Wilkinson, according to the airline, flew as low as 28 to 30 feet off the ground after taking delivery of a 777-300ER passenger jet. He is appealing his firing, according to reports in The Times of London, the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong and Flight International, an industry publication. Co-pilot Ray Middleton was suspended and also is appealing.

The celebratory flyby with landing gear retracted on Jan. 30 surprised Cathay Pacific Chairman Christopher Pratt and other senior airline officials who were among the 50 to 60 people on the plane, the South China Morning Post reported. The Times reported the speed of the plane at 322 mph. After the low-level pass, the plane ascended to a normal altitude for the flight to Hong Kong.

Cathay Pacific has an approval process for flybys but the pilot and co-pilot did not follow it and they were disciplined after a meeting last week, an airline representative told Flight International.

The Everett-built 777-300ER sells for a listed price of $264 million, although discounts are typical.

Schwarzen said he hopes no other pilots picking up Boeing jets in the future feel the need to copy Wilkinson’s action.

“We totally discourage this type of activity because it’s not safe,” he said, acknowledging that the incident also has drawn much attention in recent days. “It’s definitely become the talk of the town.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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