Sunday, January 11, 2015

Chatham selectmen craft RFP for safe skydiving: Chatham Municipal Airport (KCQX), Massachusetts

Pressured by the FAA to allow skydiving, but concerned about safety and residents’ quality of life, selectmen think five flights a day at Chatham Airport may be the way to go.

“It’s kind of a giant compromise here,” said Selectman Jeffrey Dykens.

Board members said putting together a request for proposals that specifies around five flights a day would allow an applicant to run a “gainful operation,” said Dykens, but also protect residents.

The board was weighing in on what it would like to see in an RFP, which would ultimately have to be signed by the airport manager, approved by the airport commission and then sent to the Federal Aeronautics Administration for final approval. Chatham Airport was home to a skydiving company, Skydive Cape Cod, for several years, but recently residents not only began complaining about the constant racket of the flights, but also expressed concerns that the skydiving industry is not properly regulated.

They brought their worries to selectmen who agreed there may be a safety issue and instructed Town Manager Jill Goldsmith not to sign the lease with Skydive Cape Cod. Seeing that state and federal officials had repeatedly said Skydive Cape Cod, owned by James Mendonca, was safe, the FAA told town officials that because the airport benefited greatly from federal funding it couldn’t ban skydiving.

After the FAA received an informal complaint from Mendonca, the board and staff began moving forward on a RFP that takes into account more than 100 pages of comments from concerned citizens. The RFP will contain addition requirements including formal incident reporting, a strong business plan and that aircraft be equipped with a Global Positioning System.

“So any questions about flight paths could be answered,” said Terry Whalen, the town’s chief planner. “We are really looking at providing a safe service that complies with all standards.”

This week, selectmen narrowed their conversation to trips per day, hours of operation and amount of aircraft. In addition to limiting the number of trips, the board talked about not having skydiving planes aloft in the early hours and further limiting their flights on weekends.

Town Counsel Jay Talerman said he had been having regular conversations with FAA officials and they hadn’t said five flights a day was off the table.

“They are trying to help us in a way that is not a poison pill to the vendors,” he said. “I think we are on the right track.”

That feeling may be not be universal as Tim Howard, who manages the airport through a lease with the town, said “five is substantially less from what they were doing.”

Howard added it was difficult to say what the average number of trips a day was. Depending on the weather, he said, the company could do 30 trips or none.

The airport commission spent several hours discussing the matter this week and plan to have another hearing two weeks from now to further talk about the draft RFP and perhaps approve it so it can be sent to the FAA.

In the meantime, town officials are still trying to get the FAA to do a safety audit to make sure the operation is safe at Chatham Airport, which is close to neighborhoods. The contract would be predicated on the audit having a favorable outcome.

“Some feel the safety issue is overrated,” said Selectman Sean Summers. “I don’t. No question that is an issue for me.”

- Source:

September 20,  2013:   Skydiving operation has Federal Aviation Administration blessing

Skydive Cape Cod at Chatham Municipal Airport (KCQX), Massachusetts 

CHATHAM — Many residents believe the operations of Skydive Cape Cod — which makes dozens of flights and jumps daily — are unsafe.

A panel of six national experts answered questions from those concerned Thursday night during a discussion hosted by the town's Airport Commission.

Defenders of Skydive Cape Cod, including owner Jimmy Mendonca, say it operates within Federal Aviation Administration regulations and is safe.

Most of the nearly 100 people in attendance disagree.

Denis Glover is a full-time resident of what he said used to be a "safe, quiet town," but is no longer. He asked the panel members if they still believe in the decision-making process that deemed Skydive Cape Cod safe.

The FAA has not found any violations during repeated field inspections, said FAA deputy regional administrator Todd Friedenberg.

"We're fairly confident there is a safe operation here with regard to air traffic," he added.

Skydive Cape Cod has operated out of Chatham Municipal Airport since 2010.

Friedenberg said the FAA has three missions: "safety, safety, safety." During observations — unannounced and announced — over the past month of operations by Skydive Cape Cod, inspectors "haven't noted any anomalies," he said.

The Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission has made four unannounced trips to inspect Skydive Cape Cod in the past month, said Andrew Mihaley, aeronautical inspector for the commission.

There were "no abnormalities" among the operations of Skydive Cape Cod during those inspections, he said.

"I have never seen anything that broke rules during my inspections," Mihaley said.

But many residents claim to have witnessed unsafe skydiving practices.

Heather Mackenzie said she's seen jumpers during rainy and windy days near her home on North Skyline Drive. "It seems to me these are unsafe practices," she said.

While weather conditions may look unsafe on the ground, that isn't always the case in the air, said Alan King, northeast regional director of the United State Parachute Association, a group that promotes skydiver safety.

"Things can look different from the ground," he said, "and there's nothing against jumping in the rain."

As a homeowner near Lover's Lake — the scene of a Skydive Cape Cod plane crash into the water on May 12 of last year — Richard Nurse wondered if the FAA still believes Chatham Municipal Airport is suitable for a skydiving business.

"In one word: yes," Friedenberg said.

Action was taken with regard to the Lover's Lake incident, he added. When someone in the crowd asked what type of action, Friedenberg said he could not comment or specify, drawing "boos" from the audience.

In some 1,200 to 1,300 jumps so far this year, four injuries have been reported from skydiving in Chatham, said Chris Willenborg, executive director of the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission, a division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

Three of those were "minor tandem injuries," and the other was a broken ankle, he said.

After dozens of residents voiced their concerns about Skydive Cape Cod, Mendonca took the podium to ask questions of the panel.

The panel confirmed that there are no regulations on number of jumps per day or per week for skydiving; that Skydive Cape Cod was inspected at least four times over the past 40 or so days; and that Mendonca asked officials to "fully inspect" his operation.

But many residents are not satisfied.

"Citizens will not rest until the operation is ruled unsuitable," Nurse said, drawing applause and cheers from the crowd.

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