Info for concerned citizens about the Airport Use Ordinance on the ballot |

Info for concerned citizens about the Airport Use Ordinance on the ballot

by Jon Hannan

I don’t know your stand on the proposed Use Ordinance but the waters around the ordinance are pretty mirky. I was a professional pilot and retired here to fly sailplanes. I was a military pilot for 15.5 years active duty and 17 more years in the Reserves. I flew combat rescue helicopters in Viet Nam with 17 combat saves. I was a test pilot for the Air Force and when I got off active duty I went to work for the FAA doing certification flight tests of new aircraft and major changes to older aircraft. After 10 years with the FAA I became a test pilot for the largest, at the time, aerospace company in the world and became the helicopter company’s Chief Test Pilot. After we fielded the Longbow Apache attack helicopter I went back to the FAA as the test pilot for the Small Airplane Directorate until I retired in 2001. I have flown over 250 different types of aircraft and while here have flown sailplanes for Soar Minden, taking approximately 1,000 local people for a glider ride. I have been Chairman of an aircraft accident investigation and Chairman of a FAA Certification Review of a twin engine turboprop airplane. I was Commander of three flying squadrons with both fixed wings and rotary wings. I retired from the Air Force Reserve, serving in a General Officer position at the largest AF Base in the US. My only motive here is to protect the residents of our county when I see them being misled, defied and discriminated against.

I have enjoyed flying for 53 years but this Use Ordinance may be the beginning of the end for sailplanes at Minden. I retired here in 2001 and started flying gliders when 9/11 came out of the blue and temporally grounded General Aviation for a short period of time. Since that time I have witnessed a slow but steady concerted effort to end soaring at Minden by a series of unscrupulous Airport Managers.

I made several trips to the FAA Airports District Office in San Francisco (SFADO) to protest the glider and small airplane discrimination at our Airport. I wrote several complaints, one on behalf of Linda Mae Draper, Larry Mansberger and the lack of East Side development. The FAA refused to consider the complaint as I was not the injured party. I have complained to the FAA Administrator and asked for a Congressional Investigation

I wrote a formal complaint under FAA Part 16 rules but again I am not the injured party. The three businesses mentioned above are no longer in business at the Minden-Tahoe Airport and one more soaring operator is in a life and death struggle with the County to continue operating.

During the development of the Airport Master Plan the county would not listen to my suggestion for a parallel runway to be constructed to separate the glider and jet traffic patterns for safety (we have simultaneous operations on crossing runways). Instead they adopted a configuration for lengthening the short runway, primarily used by soaring. This configuration merely mitigates the safety problem but does not solve the problem. I am confident the County will never extend the runway onto Bentley land and the safety problem will remain until there is a fatal accident.

The County is not very interested in safety, and especially soaring safety, but I have shoved some down their throats. It was not easy and took several years and a trip to the SFADO to get the power lines buried along Heyburne Road. The money was approved by the FAA but they slipped the project to install security gates and partial fencing around the Airport but any terrorist can still walk or drive onto our Airport. It is a shame they slipped the project as the senior glider instructor pilot here was killed at the departure end of runway 30 because he could not land straight ahead after a disconnect from the tow plane because of the power lines. He turned back to land on the airport but struck the power lines in the County Yards, breaking the wings off the glider and falling to the ground.

I had written a complaint to the FAA SFADO about the County Yards being on the Airport in violation of the AP-4 Agreement signed when the Military gave the Airport back to the County. It seems the FAA doesn’t see the Yards as a safety problem even though it violates their airport design guidance because the County put the Yards on the Airport before asking for any AIP federal funding. It would not be as big a problem as it is if the County had not allowed the Grace Church to build a church and school under the departure corridor for the short runway primarily used by the sailplanes. When I complained to the FAA about the Church being under the departure corridor the County bought the land under the Runway Protection Zone from the Church. The kicker is the County then gave the Church a lease to use the land for a playground/picnic area as long as they did not build a structure.

Now, if I have an engine failure on the tow plane when over Heyborne Road I have a choice, do I land on the children or on the metal storage container placed immediately beyond the RPZ leased land and die after hitting an immovable object. That is why I retired from flying at Minden-Tahoe Airport, the loss of life will not be mine, but it will be someone else that always believes “the accident will never happen to them”. The Grant Assurances also specify that the approaches should be zoned so they remain clear for emergency landings. The County is lacking in good old common sense. Its not that the County or Church didn’t know about the safety problem as I appeared at the zoning change reading at the BOCC meeting. I was told the County can’t tell a land owner what they can or cannot do with their land. After the meeting I talked to the Church’s representative and explained why it was not a good idea to build under the departure corridor of the busiest runway at the Minden Airport. He listened and asked if I could put the reasons in writing. I wrote a letter to him and hand carried it to his office but his staff would not let me give it to him in person (Mr. Winan, the furniture store operator in N. Carson, now closed).

There are multiple times I tried to get the County to correct some of the safety problems at the Airport that cause and magnify accidents. I took several people from the CVVC around the Airport in a golf cart to show them the deficiencies. The Airport manager noted me doing this and posted a sign for no trespassing and that violators would be prosecuted (in the area of the RPZ) but allows children to play under the other end of the RPZ. I also took the County Manager on the same tour and he acknowledged the deficiencies but only the trash has been picked up off the departure end of the runway 30 (3 yrs. ago). On the other end the County has refused to cut the sagebrush from the perimeter fence to the overrun, even after a glider landed short in the sagebrush and ground looped breaking the tail off. It cost more to repair the glider than the glider was worth. It just goes on and on.

The glider community has been without a legal runway to land on during wave conditions. The old runway 21 was used even though it was taken out of service years ago because the Chairman of the BOCC had a farm beneath the departure course and did not like the noise. The runway has not been repaired since the Military left and is in a sad state but we still use it if the winds are strong and blowing from that direction. The Airport Authority did resurface the other half of the runway to make it a taxiway and allowed hangars to be built immediately adjacent so it could never be opened as a runway again. The gliders still use the old runway as a taxiway but the Airport authority will not resurface the entire length. I call that discrimination against gliders and small airplanes.

There is a lot more to talk about but you get the idea. You have probably heard of the Pinon Aero lease of 87 acres. These people have paid over $100,000.00 a year (for more than 8 yrs.)for a lease, waiting for the Weight Ordinance to go down so they can build large hangars for Transport Category airplanes. If the Use Ordinance passes the maximum airplane weight will be 110,000 pounds. That is what the Boeing 737 and DC-9 weigh, and the Airport Manager will have the authority to allow heavier airplanes to land on a case by case basis. Pinon Aero is so confident this will happen they went halves with the County extending a water line from Johnson Lane down to their property and did the same to pave Heyborne Road from Airport Road to their lease.

Another provision of the Use Ordinance is that the taxiways and ramps can be strengthened to the same value and that will be very expensive but will take priority over the east side development for gliders. The taxiways are the weak link that the FAA would allow us to use as a limiting factor for the gross weight for airplanes landing here. If we defeat the Use Ordinance we could do another weight study (the 2002 and 2005 studies are seriously flawed and the FAA said they should be done over) and use the limiting weak link to determine the maximum landing weights and change the FAA interface documents and be in compliance with the FAA. That is the rationale for voting NO and defeating the Use Ordinance. If passed, the Airport will become just another Jet Port with large jets coming and going at all hours of the day and night.

And, oh by the way, did you like the way the County increased the bearing strength of the long runway to 110,000 pounds without getting your approval like the weight Ordinance requires? That is why they want to pass this Use Ordinance as it does away with the Weight Ordinance and makes their indiscretion legal. Normally, someone could sue the County but in these financially strapped times its not going to happen but I refuse to vote to make it all legal for the County. It is like we do not have a DA in Douglas County, he only enforces the laws he likes and looks for ways around the ones he doesn’t like. If you are in doubt about the above story you can go get a DVD made of the BOCC meetings where these decisions were made. Call John Campbell (cell 781-0604) and ask for a copy of the meetings listed below.

BOCC meetings March 3, 2005 Items 33& 35, the November 2005 items 30 & 31 and February 2006 item 41. The copy will cost $10 but it is worth it! I asked to get the DVD on the TV debate tape but Mr. Garvin (pro side of the debate) objected to allowing the public to see how all this went down. I’m in the phone book if you have any further questions.

Jon Hannan

Uncle Jon if you took a glider ride with me at Soar Minden.