Soaring firm calls it quits | RecordCourier.com

Soaring firm calls it quits

by Susie Vasquez

Tom Stowers, owner of Minden-based glider business High Country Soaring, closed his doors in August after 22 years. He feels airport management is trying to push the soaring community out to make way for larger aircraft.

“I want to be plain about it. I couldn’t tolerate the management anymore,” he said. “It isn’t the fun general aviation airport it used to be.”

Minden-Tahoe used to have at least 90 gliders at any given time, but the tie-down rates have been raised, forcing people to go elsewhere. Airport management’s decision to ban glider launches from the runway’s intersection and relocate the glider facilities to the east side of the airport were two other developments discouraging glider pilots and businesses, Stowers said.

“I don’t want to work in the dirt,” he said. “And I won’t have the facilities to operate from there.”

A 37-year soaring veteran, Stowers once had an international clientele including celebrities like Cliff Robertson. Because of the hassles involved with flying here, they no longer come, he said.

“It’s a sad note,” Stowers said. “This airport used to be a great facility. There is room for everyone, but they don’t want you out there.”

Of the three businesses catering to gliders, only one is left. Mansberger Aircraft, a fiberglass repair station, left earlier this year, but Tony Sabino, owner of glider operation Soar Minden, said he will be staying.

“I’m so deep in debt, I have to keep working,” he said. “A lot of people are relying on me and I’m not going to let them down.”

After part of the airport was leased, 70 to 80 gliders along one part of the runway were crammed into a smaller part of the airport. The pilots’ motor homes, which are part of the glider lifestyle, were banned about five years ago following a suicide incident, Sabino said.

“Soaring is a social sport,” he said. “Pilots drive their motorhomes, pulling their gliders behind them. After a day of soaring, they get together for a barbecue.

“That fabric has been shattered, at Minden-Tahoe,” he said.”Braswell leased land historically used not only by local pilots but also by our seasonal overflow guests.”

Airport Manager Jim Braswell leased airport property to land speculators, which displaced the glider community. These businesses are required to develop the land within a certain time frame but when those obligations weren’t met, their contracts were extended, Sabino said.

“Leasing some of the land isn’t the problem,” Sabino wrote in a letter to city manager Dan Holler. “Leasing all the land without concern about displacing the entire glider community and then not holding these “land speculators” to their contractual obligation has caused some very big problems, as well as loss of revenue for the county.”

Holler said if someone from the glider community wanted to lease that property, they could have done so. Tie downs exist in other areas and the county continues to make improvements that will ultimately benefit gliders.

Infrastructure improvements, like water and sewer for the airport’s east side are included in the Douglas County’s Master Plan and engineering work for a ramp is scheduled for next year, Holler said.

“We’re also planning an expanded tie down and staging area, a substantial investment for the gliders,” he said. “It’s adjacent to the glider operation area. We anticipate heavy glider use in that area.”

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