Pilots claiming Middletown skydiving operation being unsafe

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Combined ShapeCaption
Start Skydiving back open in Middletown

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Middletown Regional Airport officials have forwarded several complaints about skydivers and the skydiving planes operated by Start Skydivnig to the Federal Aviation Administration since the operation reopened on June 12.

The Journal-News obtained emails of complaints made by other pilots who use the airport raising concerns about skydivers landing outside their jump zones or too close to the airport’s 6,100-foot runway and/or taxiways. Another complaint made by pilots is that the planes used to take skydivers up jumps in front of other planes are trying to land, forcing student pilots with little flight time and other experienced pilots to abort landing or do a go around to re-enter the pattern.

ExploreMORE: Landing zone dispute between Middletown, Start Skydiving continues with multiple letters

In Airport Manager Dan Dickten’s June 25 complaint to the FAA, he said after skydivers jumped from their plane at 14,000 feet, that plane started descending there were two flight school aircraft with students and instructors operating in the same traffic pattern. The skydiving aircraft was over one of the flight school planes, when the instructor “alertly announced ‘go around’ and aborted their approach to the runway.

“The skydiving aircraft announced, ‘Sorry, I didn’t see you.’ This is an ongoing practice by the skydive pilots to keep cycle times as short as possible so more jumpers can be picked up and dropped.”

ExploreMORE: Middletown approves disputed move of airport’s skydiving landing zone

“Neither the city of Middletown, it’s airport manager, nor FAA have notified Start Skydiving of such complaints,” said John Hart III, a co-owner of the family-owned Start Skydiving business and its designated U.S. Parachute Association safety and training advisor. “… We cannot address complaints if they are not brought to their attention.”

Mike Millard, a Washington, D.C.-based FAA aviation safety inspector, flight standards environmental and parachute safety specialist at the agency’s general aviation operations branch, declined to comment about the complaints or why a July 1 meeting among the city, Start Skydiving, and the FAA’s Airport District Office and Flight Standards Office was cancelled hours before it was to begin.

Millard also declined to confirm whether he spoke with Start Skydiving officials about their pilot procedures and practices, as he said he would following an email to him and other FAA officials from Dickten.

ExploreMORE: Feud between Middletown, skydiving business continues as supporters speak at meeting

Some of those complaints include:

June 12; June 19, June 25, July 3: Tim Epperhart, owner of Middletown Regional Flight Training Institute, said skydivers were distracting some student pilots.

Epperhart said his “concern is that the pilots of the skydiving planes fail to grasp that those of us flying high winged aircraft have limited upward visibility. Their failure to fly FAA recommended traffic pattern procedures is dangerous. I know they expedite their patterns to increase customer volume by minimizing time between loads… If they continue to operate in this fashion, they are going to force another pilot to take evasive actions at low altitude, which could result in an accident or incident.’

However, Epperhart made it clear he had no issues with the skydivers operating at the airport.

“They have as much right as the rest of us to use this airport. But they must be required to use it safely and courteously, respecting other users as well,” he said.

June 15: A pilot from Versailles, Ky., who visits the airport about once a month, said the skydiving plane pilot announced to pilots in the immediate area not to fly over the Middletown airport. The pilot from Kentucky was forced to fly around for an additional 15 minutes waiting for all the skydivers to land. He said it was dangerous for them (skydivers) to be landing so close.

June 16: Dickten reported two incidents to the FAA that occurred with aircraft in the traffic pattern and on the ground, one was a skydiver who landed on Taxiway A and very near the self-service fueling system; and an other one landing at the intersection of Taxiways A and C. Both walked across and along to the skydiving hangar.

June 17: A flight school plane in the traffic pattern had to divert landing, go around and get back in line behind the skydiving aircraft.

July 2: Dickten reported a skydiver landed on the Safe Skies Maintenance Hangar apron near several parked aircraft. This is way off target for the drop zones.

July 3: A report of "a jumper aircraft pilot who looked like he was trying to play "chicken" with a pilot on the taxiway as he was on his way to runway 23 run-up area. He pulled off to one side after my student freaked-out and slammed on the brakes. That was a pure attempt of intimidation."

July 3: A student pilot on final approach (while doing touch and goes) observed a parachutist landing right next to the runway even with landing lights on.

July 3-5: Other tenants report being cut off by skydiving aircraft that was expediting its landing to pick up more skydivers.

About the Author