It’s a Jet Ski with wings, a high-performance sport aircraft that has now been involved in three crashes, two fatal, in the last eight months. That’s how veteran aviation journalist Stephen Pope described the ICON A5, the plane Roy Halladay was flying when he crashed into the Gulf of Mexico and died on Tuesday. “The way people see it, it’s a toy,” said Pope, editor-in-chief of Flying Magazine. “They see it as a pleasure craft, used for flying on water, which it seems what Roy was doing. It’s to play around in and have some fun.”
Upon first glance, the ICON A5 is sleek and sporty, and the concept behind it is immediately enticing, especially if you’re a flying enthusiast with $389,000 to burn. It’s amphibious, its wings fold up and the cockpit mimics that of a sports car. It’s absolutely perfect to roll out of the garage, haul to the nearest boat launch, hop in and take off for a joy ride.
Over the course of the last few years, production of the aircraft experienced several delays, but according to Pope, reviews have been positive since the A5 arrived. It’s easy to fly, it has a no-stall wing design which the FAA was complimentary of and, Pope says, it’s designed to be a safe airplane.
“Every pilot I’ve talked to said it’s a really good airplane,” he said. There is, however, one criticism, which goes back to that Jet-Ski-with-wings description. It’s one thing to rip around on a jet ski and get tossed, another to hover over water at a high rate of speed (the ICON A5 tops out at 121 mph) in a flying object, which is exactly what the ICON A5 is shown doing in at least one demo video.
“It’s a very new design,” said Pope, “but what we know about the airplane is, the plane is safe, but marketing the airplane designed to be a flying toy … seems like a recipe for disaster.” For Halladay, whose father was a pilot, owning a plane was apparently a dream come true, for during his playing days he said he wasn’t allowed to get his pilot’s license. He retired from baseball after the 2013 season and, according to a post on his Twitter page, got his pilot’s license in April 2014.
He took ownership of the ICON A5 on Oct. 12, less than four weeks ago, receiving from the company plane number “01 out of 100 Founders Edition.” Since then, he tweeted about flying the plane five times, including this on Oct. 31:
“I keep telling my dad flying the ICON A5 low over the water is like flying a fighter jet!”
According to ICON Aircraft, there are 23 A5 in production. Three have crashed in 2017. Of those, two have been fatal. On April 1, a pilot and passenger were uninjured after suffering a hard crash on the water near Miami. On May 8, two ICON employees were killed when the pilot veered into a canyon in northern California with a plan to “conduct water maneuvers.” The National Transportation Safety Board determined pilot error – the pilot mistakenly entered the wrong canyon with no exit and was unable to perform a necessary 180-degree turn – as the cause of the accident. The third is Roy Halladay, who was 40.
“[Three crashes] is something that will raise eyebrows in the aviation community and surely … the FAA,” Pope said.
ICON Aircraft released the following statement Tuesday evening: “We were devastated to learn that former MLB pitcher Roy Halladay died today in an accident involving an ICON A5 in the Gulf of Mexico. We have gotten to know Roy and his family in recent months, and he was a great advocate and friend of ours. The entire ICON community would like to pass on our deepest condolences to Roy’s family and friends. ICON will do everything it can to support the accident investigation going forward and we will comment further when more information is available.”