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Globe-trotting teen pilot flies over Taiwan Air Force base

Zara Rutherford makes unauthorized loop over Taichung

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Rutherford made loop over Taichung City. (Flightradar24)

Rutherford made loop over Taichung City. (Flightradar24)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwanese aviators are criticizing a globe-trotting teen pilot for flying over restricted areas, including an Air Force base, without any repercussions from authorities.

British-Belgian teenager, Zara Rutherford, 19, on Tuesday (Dec. 15) landed her custom-made Shark Aero at Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA), as part of her 51,000-kilometer trip around the world that will span five continents and 52 countries. The moment she landed, she was greeted by ground crew members in PPE who immediately handed her a cap, mask, bubble tea, and a sign that read "Welcome to TSA. Welcome to Taiwan."

After speaking with the media and enjoying a Taiwanese-style dinner of "sweet and sour pork ribs," she spent the night at an epidemic prevention hotel. At 8 a.m. the next day, she took off to head to her next stop — the Philippines.

Globe-trotting teen pilot flies over Taiwan Air Force base
Rutherford landing at TSA. (TSA photo)

However, in a post uploaded to Breaking News Commune (爆料公社) that day, Taiwanese aviators complained about what they perceived to be special treatment afforded to the foreign teen. They pointed out that in Taiwan her aircraft is classified as an "ultralight vehicle" and that Taiwanese who fly them are referred to as "operators," while the media referred to her vehicle as "an aircraft" and described her as a "pilot."

They alleged that Taiwan Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) authorities are extremely strict towards Taiwanese operators of ultralight vehicles. One CAA official was cited as saying that ultralight aircraft will "not be able to fly into official airports in the foreseeable future."

Globe-trotting teen pilot flies over Taiwan Air Force base
Rutherford wearing TSA T-shirt as she prepares to depart. (TSA photo)

The aviators noticed that Rutherford was able to avoid the CAA's tight restrictions on ultralight vehicles without consequences, saying they did not dare to question the CAA over the incident for fear of impacting their flying rights.

For this reason, aviation enthusiasts decided to check the flight path taken by Rutherford. They found that she had flown near Taipei 101 and right over Ching Chuan Kang Air Base (清泉崗空軍基地), before flying in a circle over the Xitun and Beitun districts of Taichung City.

Globe-trotting teen pilot flies over Taiwan Air Force base
Rutherford's route over Taipei. (Flightradar24 image)

They pointed out that despite these maneuvers, there had been no warning from the CAA. The aviators wrote that there are restrictions for flying over urban areas and that even after receiving permission for a given flight path, they are not allowed to fly in circles.

"It's strange. Why is there no harm done when foreigners fly this way but it's dangerous for Taiwanese to do the same? When she flew over ocean, her flight path overlapped with an airline... and still there was no danger?"

"Taiwanese can't even fly drones in the sky."

"It's a double standard again. Taiwanese like to bully their own people."

"Because you are not a foreigner, and you have no value, they can't use you for publicity."

"Inferiority Complex Island."

Globe-trotting teen pilot flies over Taiwan Air Force base
Loop Rutherford took over Taichung. (Flightradar24 image)

In response to the aviators' allegations, the CAA stated that the plane flown by Rutherford is an ordinary aircraft, not an ultralight vehicle. It explained that there are three major differences between a standard aircraft and an ultralight vehicle.

According to the CAA, an aircraft has retractable landing gear, a variable-pitch propeller, and can exceed 220 kilometers per hour. In contrast, an ultralight vehicle cannot retract its landing gear, has a fixed propeller, and it cannot reach a speed of 220 kilometers per hour.

The CAA said that Rutherford followed visual flight rules, kept in touch with air traffic control during her flight over Taiwan, and did not violate any regulations.

Update: 01/17 10:30 p.m.

Zara's father Sam Rutherford contacted Taiwan News to state that her flight over the Ching Chuan Kang Air Base had followed air traffic control instructions. He added that she had asked for and received authorization to fly in a circle over Morrison Academy Taichung, which had students stand together in a field to form her name as she flew overhead.