Low-flying gecko seen as invasion

Annapolis residents complain about GEICO's banner ad

October 12, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

For two months, the gecko has been an unwelcome guest.

A likeness of the ubiquitous mascot for GEICO Auto Insurance, with its beady eyes and impossibly green skin, has flown on a banner behind a small airplane circling over Annapolis, again and again, every Friday for two months.

Just outside the city, Cynthia Crawford said the noisy plane rumbling overhead has driven her and her children from their backyard. Paul Foer's peace and quiet is disrupted as he stares into the sky from one of his lounge chairs at his Eastport home.

"Rampant commercialism is the issue here," Foer said. "This gecko is invading my privacy."

While the Federal Aviation Administration has sent a warning letter to Phoenix Air Ads about flying the plane too low, there is nothing illegal about the form of advertising that ismore familiar to vacationers at Ocean City.

Federal investigators found that the plane had flown between 700 feet and 800 feet, instead of staying above 1,000 feet, a rule imposed for planes flying over a populated or congested area, said Jim Peters, a spokesman for the FAA's eastern regional office in New York.

But the warning amounts to a slap on the wrist and is not uncommon with banner planes that fly over beaches, he said.

"During the summer season, these situations are always there," Peters said.

Phoenix Air Ads no longer has a contract with GEICO, said Cathy Gathmann of Phoenix Air Ads. She said it had nothing to do with the FAA warning letter.

Officials from GEICO, which is based in Chevy Chase, were not available to comment. It is unclear which company Geico is using to fly the banners now.

The plane primarily flies over U.S. 50 East to the Bay Bridge and then circles back over Annapolis for another loop. Crawford said the plane flies as often as every 12 minutes over her house for up to three hours.

"I'm just trying to shame them [GEICO] into stopping it," said Crawford, a real estate attorney. She said she has not had any luck appealing to company officials.

Foer, who has written in his online blog about the plane with its flapping yellow banner, said that he tries to avoid commercialism by eschewing television. He listens mostly to ad-free National Public Radio.

Foer said beaches are public spaces, and anything goes. It's different when it's your own backyard, he said.

"I have no choice," he said.

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