Thursday, May 22, 2014

SkyRunner ♥♡

The flying dune buggy that got stuck in Shreveport Customs 

WASHINGTON -- Shreveport businessman Stewart Hamel wants to start manufacturing what he describes as a part all-terrain vehicle/part light-sport aircraft. But Hamel says he ran afoul of an "overzealous and hostile" EPA official who wouldn't provide a required sticker to move a prototype model, built in England, from the U.S. Customs facility at the Shreveport airport.

The project, known as SkyRunner, is back on track, Hamel said, after Sen. David Vitter, R-La, intervened. But for a while, Hamel, managing principal of Hamel Interests and Private Equity, LLC in Shreveport, said he feared the EPA official would seize the vehicle and possibly destroy it.

Hamel said he is seeking to produce what effectively is a dune buggy, with an attached parachute, that can fly for 200 nautical miles at 55 mph at 10,000 feet above sea level. It's top speed on the ground is 115 mph.

Hamel sees the dual vehicles as having potential for large landowners, ranchers, farmers, pipeline companies, emergency medical teams and fun lovers with spare cash. He expects to sell them for $119,000 each.

The U.S. military is also interested, Hamel said, though "I can't say how they would be used."

The SkyRunners are being marketed as a quick way to get medical supplies to injured people stuck in remote or areas inaccessible to road vehicles.

But Hamel's goal of getting them to market starting in the third quarter in 2014, seemed hopeless when he said he encountered an EPA official who wouldn't tell him what he needed to get a sticker to get the prototype released from the Shreveport Airport's bonded Customs facility. The prototype arrived in early April, and the dispute with the EPA official carried on for weeks, Hamel said.

"I kept telling David (the EPA official) that I want to do everything by the book," Hamel said. "But he was hostile from the beginning. It was scary that you can run into this abuse of power and have no recourse. If I hadn't called David Vitter this deal would have been in real trouble."
After Vitter intervened, Hamel said the EPA admitted it didn't have authority over the prototype vehicle and Customs released it from a locked facility at the Shreveport airport. Now, he's working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to get the vehicle certified.

 "They (the FAA officials) have been nothing but professional and helpful," Hamel said.  "You expect your government to work with you, not put unreasonable obstacles in the way."

Vitter Wednesday wrote to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy to ask for an explanation, saying the official (whom the Picayune isn't naming until giving him a chance to respond) has abused his authority with other applicants for EPA permits.

"Beyond the threats of seizure and destruction of property, it has been brought to my attention that (the official) has a history of intentionally delaying EPA authorization for importation in order to force private businesses to incur additional costs," Vitter wrote. "Specifically, there is a history of targeting products that could be used by our military to save American lives."

EPA said it would respond to Vitter's letter.

 SkyRunner weighs 926 pounds and can accelerate to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, with a top speed of 115 mph on the ground and 55 mph in the air, according to its English producer. It uses a 1.0 liter EcoBoost direct injection turbo engine's 125PS (92kW) power and has a 500-mile road range.

No, you can't use it to fly above rush hour traffic, Hamel said. The vehicle isn't designed for highways.

 But you don't need an airport runway, Hamel said.

"Open fields, grass strips and secluded beaches will be the runways of choice," Hamel said. "In the United States 98 percent of airspace is open to light sport pilots."
Hamel hopes to produce the vehicles in Shreveport, as well as production facilities in South America and Australia.

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