Construction has started on a new hangar that will be home to a new drop zone, Skydive 35, at the Hillsboro Municipal airport, centrally located south of Dallas-Fort Worth near the intersection of I-35E and I-35W in Texas. With the help of USPA’s Government Relations Department, DZO Jeff Hawk has secured a 30-year lease for skydiving operations with the airport. The full-service facilities are expected to be completed and open for business by mid-April. Hawk currently operates Eagle Flight Skydiving at Granbury, Texas, which will close with the opening of Skydive 35.
In only the second FAA Part 16 Formal Complaint that USPA has participated in, FAA Headquarters has determined that skydiving can be safely accommodated at yet another general aviation airport.
A member had filed the formal FAA complaint after his skydiving business was barred from the Yazoo City Airport in Mississippi. USPA became involved earlier when a local FAA office justified the action by observing that the airport was occasionally used by jets, was near an airway, had an instrument approach, and had a federal prison located two miles away.
At USPA's insistence, the FAA commissioned a new study by a regional FAA office. The study found no reason why the airport could not accommodate skydiving. FAA Headquarters used the new study as a basis for issuing its Part 16 determination that the airport must accept skydiving.
Skydivers and one drop zone owner in Tennessee are happy again. Skydive Paris has reopened at the Henry County Airport in Paris, Tennessee. Jumping commenced on July 8, 2006, more than two years after the airport manager abruptly shut down the DZ because skydivers were allegedly landing too close to the runway. DZO Johnny Reyes doggedly fought back and, supported by USPA, its attorneys and the Airport Access Defense Fund, took the issue all the way to the top of the FAA by filing a Part 16 formal complaint. The result was a slam-dunk FAA ruling that “there exists a long-standing precedent for affording skydivers the same operational latitude given to an aircraft in flight or while taxiing.” The FAA threatened to withhold the airport’s construction funds if it did not allow skydiving back on the airport. “I can tell you that I had never experienced a greater feeling in my life than when those parachutes opened [on July 8th],” said Reyes. “The support that USPA provided played a key role in our success.”
The FAA has issued a major ruling that overturns a ban on skydiving and reinstates a DZ at a small airport in Tennessee. The ruling also reinforces USPA’s position that general aviation airports must not discriminate against skydiving activities. In its determination, the FAA finds the airport to be in violation of its grant agreements with the FAA and directs the airport to devise a plan to accommodate skydiving within 30 days.
The DZ, Skydive Paris, had been operating at the Henry County Airport for nearly 10 years when the airport manager advised the DZ to cease skydiving in March 2004, alleging that skydiving jeopardized safety at the airport. From the DZO’s initial phone call, USPA immediately became involved, orchestrating what turned into a series of studies, airport site visits, letters and FAA findings that at each level revealed complete FAA support for continued skydiving at the airport. At each turn, the airport management and county officials dug their heels in deeper, continuing the ban in defiance of FAA conclusions favorable to skydiving. Finally, after exhausting all other remedies, the USPA Board approved using the association’s Airport Access Defense Fund to support submission of a formal complaint under the FAA’s Part 16 process. Using $5,000 from the AAD fund, USPA’s attorney and considerable staff resources, USPA and the DZO succeeded in having the FAA docket the complaint in June 2005, meaning that officials at FAA Headquarters would take an in-depth look and issue the agency’s final word on the matter.
The FAA’s determination clearly sides with the DZ by concluding: 1) “FAA determines that the Airport can safely accommodate on-airport drop zones,” and 2) “By prohibiting use of the established drop zones, [the Airport] has unjustly discriminated against the [DZ] … a violation of Grant Assurance[s] …” The FAA also threatened to withhold any future federal grant money from the airport until the situation was remedied.
Amid the 28 pages of the FAA determination are several findings that also benefit all of skydiving. The determination states that: 1) “Parachute jumping is an aeronautical use,” 2) “Parachute jumping activities must normally be accommodated at a federally-obligated airport,” 3) “There exists a long-standing precedent for affording skydivers the same operational latitude given to an aircraft in flight or while taxiing …”