Runway ban concerns glider pilots | RecordCourier.com

Runway ban concerns glider pilots

by Susie Vasquez

Airport officials have traditionally looked the other way as glider pilots used Minden-Tahoe Airport’s closed runway 21.

The pilots are concerned that strict enforcement of airport regulations could result in their being cited or arrested for a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.

Many other infractions could end with a misdemeanor arrest under these regulations, a situation that’s having a chilling effect on both pilots and businesses there, said John Morgan, a pilot and member of the Minden Airport Association.

“The airport manager also retains the right to banish users from the airport for violation of rules without due process, for any reason he sees fit,” Morgan said.

An Oakland police officer for 10 years, Morgan said airport users are pilots, not criminals, and a citation would be more appropriate.

Dr. Leo Montejo, president of Soar Minden, said runway 21 is the safest runway for gliders when the wind is strong from the southwest. A Bay area anesthesiologist who uses the airport regularly, he said he would have to report any misdemeanor charges he incurs to his state licensure board.

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The rules allow airport management to pick and choose whoever they care to cite, he said.

“If I’m landing on runway 21 because I might get killed, I could be arrested,” he said.

Airport Manager Jim Braswell said the rules are there for legal and liability issues. If a pilot needs to use the runway in an emergency situation, it is available. A yellow “x” is painted on the runway to warn pilots away and they land at their own risk.

No pilot has been cited for landing on runway 21 and the ruling, which isn’t new, won’t impact gliders, he said.

“The rules and regulations haven’t changed in 16 years,” he said. “Now, the glider pilots are waking up and panicking.”

Morgan said the fact that the rule has always been there, doesn’t make it right. The potential for a misdemeanor on their records will keep customers, as well as soaring businesses, away.

“Soaring is so tenuous here, with two soaring businesses closing recently,” Morgan said. “Airport management is not considering the good of the airport community.”

The gliders aren’t a major revenue source but they do add about $15,000 to $20,000 a year to the airport’s budget, primarily through tie-down fees. Between 30 and 60 gliders are based at Minden-Tahoe in winter. The number doubles in the summer, Braswell said.

The Airport Advisory Committee, which has been reviewing these rules and regulations for months, approved them Sept. 21. They will be forwarded to the Federal Aviation Administration, which will review them for FAA violations only. When the review is completed, the regulations will be forwarded to Douglas County’s board of commissioners for approval, Morgan said.

Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 213.