FAA Regulations Tested by Arkansas Turkey Drop Event
FARs, Jurisdiction & Animal Cruelty
First, here is the legal report on Yellville, AK’s annual Turkey Trot Festival and its highlight event, the Turkey Drop:
FAA investigators said a festival in northwestern Arkansas did not break any rules when it tossed live turkeys from an airplane.
The annual Turkey Trot festival was held last weekend in Yellville, which is about 90 miles north of Little Rock. One turkey died Friday and another died Saturday upon hitting the ground.
Most of the turkeys dropped on Friday were able to open their wings and glide to a landing, while the turkey that died appeared to try and flap its wings instead. Wild turkeys have the ability to fly up to 55 mph, however they normally fly between treetops at a height of less than 100 feet. The festival turkeys were dropped from a height over 600 feet.
FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said an investigator who attended the event Friday didn’t witness any rule violations. Lunsford says it’s legal to drop objects from airplanes if there isn’t any risk of injuring property or humans on the ground.
Animal-welfare groups have condemned the 50-year-old tradition and called on the FAA to rethink its regulations.
“If the Federal Aviation Administration agent thinks that a human being has to be hurt or someone’s property has to be damaged before the agency can take action, then PETA suggests that the agency needs to think harder: A plane dropped live turkeys out of the sky, causing the death of two frightened birds — who, sadly enough, were indeed someone’s property, and we promise that there will be repercussions,” said Stephanie Bell, senior director of cruelty casework at PETA.
Lunsford says the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction over animal-cruelty concerns.
This interpretation by the FAA’s Southwest Region was likely issued in response to this question posed a year ago by this Journal: Can Turkeys fly? The FAA may have to decide, not in an airliner, but after being tossed out of an airplane.
PETA has added the question of whether the FAA has or should have jurisdiction over animal cruelty involving aircraft. Ms. Bell certainly raises excellent moral, ethical and equity issues, but it is not likely that the Arkansas Congressional Delegation would allow an amendment to the Act to cover such issues.
[NOTE: there are no records indicating whether past AR governors such as Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. William Jefferson Clinton, Gov. Dale Bumpers, Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller or Gov. Orval Eugene Faubus ever attended this event.]
From an aviation perspective, here are some more details:
Whether wild turkeys can fly has been a central issue of the turkey-drop debate, which received more attention after a 1978 episode of the television show WKRP in Cincinnati in which turkeys were dropped from a helicopter as a Thanksgiving promotion.
“The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement,” said Richard Sanders, who played WKRP newsman Les Nessman on the TV show.
Mark Hutchings, a biologist supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said wild turkeys can indeed fly.
“Wild turkeys are strong fliers,” Hutchings said. “They are really built more for short, rapid flight. Most of the time continuous wing-beats would not continue more than a couple hundred yards, but they tend to glide intermittently and when they do, can sail for a mile or more. I believe flying speeds can be as fast as 55 miles per hour.”
Yvonne Vizzier Thaxton, a professor of poultry science at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said wild turkeys stay at an altitude of less than 100 feet.
With other aviation publications, reporters present at the Paris Airshow, Farnborough, Dubai, Singapore, Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung Oshkosh, NBAA BACE, Sun ‘n Fun and the Reno Air Races, only here can you get the social and cultural news from Yellville, like:
The famous National Wild Turkey Calling Contest (sponsored, naturally by Wild Turkey)
One of the largest parades in Northwest Arkansas
A 5K Walk/Run
The Miss Turkey Trot Pageant
The Miss Drumsticks Pageant, in which the winners are chosen while their faces and upper bodies are hidden
To place this totally unPC event in context, here is some more background about the state:
The State Bird: The Mockingbird
The State Beverage: Milk
The State Motto: “The People Rule”