Pilot reaches agreement with St. Louis fire chief to cease landings near Arch

ST. LOUIS - A deal has been struck to keep a pilot from landing his amphibious plane on the Mississippi River in front of the Gateway Arch.

The pilot’s repeated landings had police and firefighters scrambling to see if there was an actual emergency. St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson says, legal or not, it has to stop.

St. Louis police and firefighters responded on back-to-back days, even though the pilot alerted the fire department in advance the second time.

“People are caught off guard,” Jenkerson said. “They’re trying to text they think they saw a plane went down. It causes me great concern. My job is public safety. I think we’ve got an issue with him landing on the river…the Coast Guard didn’t know about this and they control the river traffic.”

However, the FAA defers to state laws on water landings. Missouri state law says water landings are legal as long as the river is clear.

Missouri Revised Statutes, 305.030, reads, in part: “...flight in aircraft over the lands and waters of this state is lawful, unless at such a low altitude as to interfere with the then existing use ... Or unless so conducted as to be imminently dangerous to persons or property ..."

The pilot, Rick Rief, is a regional sales manager for the ICON A5 amphibious aircraft. He’s just started doing demonstration flights for prospective buyers in St. Louis.

Rief says he gets appropriate clearances from air traffic control and strictly adheres to all safety regulations.

“I’ve got to make sure this is a safe operation. Right now, I’m not convinced it is,” Jenkerson said.

“It’s a beautiful view to be flying above the river downtown by the Arch,” Rief said. “(But) If their advice is that they’d like us to operate north of the city or south of the city, we’ll certainly take that advice."

Though Jenkerson still has concerns about the plane hitting water hazards like driftwood, he says he and Rief have reached an agreement: the water landings can continue away from Downtown St. Louis; north of the Chain of Rocks Bridge and south of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge.

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