Thursday, July 04, 2013

County, gliders differ on camping issue at airport

Ely Airport (KELY),  Nevada
For glider pilots around the world, it doesn’t get much better than the Ely Airport. The airport is in the midst of its summer soaring season, which lasts from mid June to the start of fall. Among the gliders spending time in Ely are the top ranked glider in the world (Jim Payne) according to, which tracks the top flights around the world on a daily basis, and Mitch Polinsky, who set a world record in distance over a triangular course going 1,244.22 kilometers.

“The equivalent of 1,000 km is if a person is a runner and loves to run, his goal is to run a marathon,” Ely Jet Center’s James Adams said. “In the soaring world, doing 1,000 km is an equivalent to that. It’s rare. It’s not super rare, but it’s rare as a whole. It’s everyone’s goal.”

Four pilots, including Polinsky, reached the 1,000 km benchmark last Saturday and since the summer soaring season began, pilots taking off from the Ely Airport have turned in some of the best marks around the world.

“Ely has just been dominating the world and we do every year during the summer,” Adams said. “This is what makes this place so special. That’s what brings people from all over the world. I have guys from just about every continent who flock into Ely to soar.”

The Ely Airport is famous for its thermal soaring, when the sun heats the ground and causes bubbles of warm air to rise. Among aviation enthusiasts, it doesn’t get much better than Ely.

“Everybody knows about Ely,” Polinsky said. “It’s one of the three or four or five best soaring spots in the world.”

A big part of the experience is camping at the airport, Polinsky said. There are major safety benefits and it also helps promote socialization among the pilots. And that’s something that can be very beneficial to less experienced pilots.

“I used to stay in a motel in town,” Polinsky said. “I was very isolated and I didn’t interact nearly as much with the other glider pilots. It was earlier in my soaring career and I didn’t know about the ticks about flying up in the air, safety, where to go and what’s a safe spot to land at. Now that I’m one of the more senior and experienced people here, I share that information with people who are less experienced.”

Information about weather conditions is often passed through pilots interacting with each other. And, with a kitchen and men’s and women’s bathrooms on site, camping also allows the pilots to join together.

“A lot of the lure for the pilots is because of the safety benefits and being able to be together, share information and have a social experience,” Polinsky said.

But that may be about to change.


The White Pine County Commission recently voted three-to-two to not allow camping at the airport. County Commissioner Mike Lemich expressed concerns that it would be in conflict with ordinances and doesn’t want the county to compete with other camping parks in the area while Chairman John Lampros said this would hurt the Tourism and Recreation Board. There were also concerns about the facilities available to people camping at the airport and about reports from Sheriff Dan Watts about complaints that campers are sneaking into their facilities to use them after hours and without permission.

“They were completely insulted that anyone would insinuate they would do something so low,’ Adams said. “They go to restaurants. They buy food at Ridley’s and Andersons. They’ve been to the pool, to their train rides and go to Mt. Wheeler every year. They go see the sites in the town. They were offended some county commissioner would accuse them of something like that. They spend thousands of dollars a year in this community. It’s an expensive sport, but it’s a passion.”

If the county holds firm on its stance to not allow camping, the airport and the City of Ely will see negative impacts, said Polinsky, who works as a professor of Economics at Stanford University. And if that happens, one of top destinations for glider pilots could lose its luster.

“I think it’d be very detrimental to Ely and to the economy,” Polinsky said. “I’m an economist by profession. I would predict it would really hurt the revenue. I spend at least a couple thousand dollars in Ely. If they don’t allow camping at the airport, many fewer people would come down here…I hope they see the benefits for the city. It would be a big sacrifice for the city to not permit camping at the Ely Airport and the safety benefits they care about and the Federal Aviation Administration cares about.”


No comments:

Post a Comment