FAA suggests compromise for skydiving landing zone at Middletown Regional Airport

This map is what the Federal Aviation Administration is proposing as the parachute landing zones at Middletown Regional Airport. CONTRIBUTED/FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION

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This map is what the Federal Aviation Administration is proposing as the parachute landing zones at Middletown Regional Airport. CONTRIBUTED/FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION

Middletown city officials met Friday afternoon with representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and from Start Skydiving regarding the outstanding issue of the possible move of the existing and identified parachutist landing zones within the Middletown Regional Airport.

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After thorough research on all issues of compliance and safety and vetting all issues against the various responsibilities and obligations of FAA, a unified and clear position on behalf of all component functions of the FAA was made and the city and Start Skydiving were informed of the following:

  • The city must clearly accommodate the skydiving operations and not inhibit or interfere with their right to operate
  • In operating, Start Skydiving must assure that they are doing so safely and not inhibiting or unduly interfering with other aviation uses.
  • The city has the right to move the parachutist landing zones, but only if such move adds to or improves safety and can’t do so if safety is lessened.
  • The city/airport is blessed with an abundance of space and there is an equally abundant opportunity for compromise.
  • The FAA strongly encourages compromise, and will assist in any needed negotiations to achieve such compromise so long as it results in supporting both Start Skydiving’s ability to operate successfully and the airport’s ability to further support all other desired aviation uses and users.
  • The FAA expressed concerns about parachutist drop zones being located adjacent to runways, particularly when there are other options available. The FAA proposed a specific possible compromise of general areas for parachutist landing zones that it would find fully acceptable and provided the visual representations of the proposal.
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“The city has agreed to work expeditiously with all involved to reach a possible safe and effective compromise that would create a “win-win” situation for all parties,” said City Manager Jim Palenick.

John Hart II, co-owner of Start Skydiving, was not in the meeting with the FAA and the city and deferred comment to his son John Hart III, who is also a co-owner of the family-owned business.

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Hart has repeatedly said for months the new drop zone was unsafe and will not expose any skydivers to land in that area. Hart has also threatened to move the business to a new location.

For the past few years, the city and Start Skydiving have been embroiled in a dispute concerning issues with their hangar lease and most recently in May when the city moved the parachute landing zone. Since then Start Skydiving has made allegations against the city in its efforts to operate the airport.

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In addition, the feuding has delayed the city’s efforts to complete the Airport’s Master Plan and Layout Plan because the parachute landing zone issue was not resolved.

Part of the issue was the lack of a coordinated position and conflict between the FAA’s Flight Standards Office and Airport District Office which saw the controversy between the city and Start from different perspectives. The FAA guidance announced Friday was a compromise and places the landing zone in the same area that the city decided in May but allowed those with a “D” license or the very experienced skydivers to land between their hangar and taxiway.

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While the city had moved the parachute landing zone in May, Start Skydiving continued to use the previous landing zones as before when they reopened for business in June after the COVID-19 shutdown. During the past two months, city officials have been logging complaints with the FAA from pilots using airport concerning safety incidents.

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