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Genoa ad firm flies back into controversy

Banner criticizes statue of late coach

  • Penn-State-Abuse-35

    A plane flying over the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa., pulls a banner reading 'Take the statue down or we will'. The towing company is from Wood County, Ohio.

    Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark

  • Penn-State-Abuse-Reminders

    This is the statue of former Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno that stands outside Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa.

    Associated Press

Penn-State-Abuse-35

A plane flying over the Penn State University campus in State College, Pa., pulls a banner reading 'Take the statue down or we will'. The towing company is from Wood County, Ohio.

Centre Daily Times/Nabil K. Mark Enlarge

A northwest Ohio aerial advertising company that flew a banner Tuesday advocating the removal of a statue of Joe Paterno from Penn State University's campus has a history of controversial banners.

Air America Aerial Ads of Genoa in Ottawa County towed a banner that read, "Take the statue down or we will," over the Happy Valley campus in Pennsylvania.

Jim Miller, owner of Air America, confirmed the company was hired to fly over the university but declined to identify its customer.

"I've had positive responses and I've had negative responses," Mr. Miller said regarding the banner about Mr. Paterno. "It's not for me, it's for my clients."

In April, 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded Air America after it flew banners during the Masters golf tournament that taunted Tiger Woods about his sex life.

Because banners had never been towed over the tournament before, the plane was ordered checked for improper flight conduct. Inspectors found minor mechanical issues, and the pilot was required to repair the problems before flying resumed over the Augusta National course.

Penn-State-Abuse-Reminders

This is the statue of former Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno that stands outside Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa.

Associated Press Enlarge

In a 2010 interview with The Blade, Kathleen Bergen, communications manager of the FAA's regional office in Atlanta, said the FAA cannot control messages displayed by banner-towing planes.

"We have no jurisdiction over that," Ms. Bergen said. "That is a free-speech issue, not air safety."

Mr. Miller said the Air America plane flew over Penn State's campus in State College, Pa., for about three hours, attracting a wealth of media attention to the company.

"I believe in freedom of speech," he said. "I'm an advertising agency. This is what I do for a living, whether it concurs or disagrees with my personal views."

Air America Aerial Ads Inc. was formed in 1996 after Drake Aerial Enterprises, a company founded by Mr. Miller's father in 1987, closed. The firm's Web site advertises "dynamic and eye-catching" banners that the company will fly anywhere in the country. It charges between $300 and $1,200 an hour for banners up to 40 feet by 110 feet.

"Our role is to responsibly deliver attention-getting, aerial messages directly to your target -- when you want them there," the company's Web site says. "To accomplish this, we employ our own pilots, own and operate a fleet of our own fully insured planes, and deploy our proprietary systems and tools that enable us to tow some of the largest banners in the business."

The company has towed banners for a wide range of clients, including NBC, the Disney Channel, Harley-Davidson, and Hooters, according to the Web site.

In July, 2006, a Bowling Green State University graduate was killed when the Piper aircraft he was piloting for Air America Aerial Ads flew into power lines and crashed on a U.S. 22 ramp in Steubenville, Ohio. It was believed that pilot Scott Holland, 22, planned to tow banner ads over the Major League All-Star Game in Pittsburgh.

Four years later, in September, 2010, Adam Danhauer, 24, of Whitehouse, died when the Air America Cessna 150 plane he was flying for the company crashed in a central Iowa cornfield.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Mel Flanagan at: mflanagan@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.

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