SHORTLY after a young California girl's single-engine plane crashed last week during her attempt to become the youngest cross-country pilot, federal authorities said they would reexamine regulations on underage pilots. Under FAA rules, no one may fly solo until he or she is 16 years old. But a person of any age can fly next to a licensed pilot and manipulate the controls "when it's safe to do so."
"Safe to do so" is left to the judgment of the flight instructor. But in this case, with a world record at stake and, as one aviation expert noted, "with the cameras rolling," safety may have taken a back seat. A basic question is why the plane took off in the middle of a powerful thunderstorm. After all, the record didn't depend on making good time.
Investigators say it appears that the plane was overweight. Other evidence suggests that the flight trainer was at the plane's other set of controls when it crashed.
Many ask why Jessica Dubroff was flying at all. They note that it's unlikely that any very young child - no matter how bright or precocious - has developed the judgment or physical skills to control an airplane.
Jessica's parents said their daughter "had a dream" - to fly. It's hard to tell who wanted it most. In a pre-flight interview, when asked why she wanted to fly cross-country, Jessica answered, "Well, I think it was my dad's idea."
In some cases a child pushes to achieve and no one says no; in other cases it may be a parent doing the pushing. Either way, questions naturally arise about children doing too much, too young. Questions also arise about parental responsibility. Though Jessica's mother said she wanted to give her children "freedom and choice," parents must ensure that freedom does not outpace the growth of knowledge, judgment, and discipline.
As one child advocate said, "Children should be cherished for their own sake," not for their adult-like dreams and accomplishments. Many times a dream can wait.