Sunday, August 08, 2021

‘Lives are at risk’: Issues continue with pilot at Ontario Municipal Airport (KONO), who refused to tie down his aircraft next to the Bureau of Land Management SEAT base during high winds Wednesday

On Wednesday evening as a storm moves in with high winds, Vale District Bureau of Land Management’s SEAT base operators discuss with the Tom Frazier, left, of the fixed-base operator about trying to get Clyde Esplin to move his plane as it started to move around in the wind. 

ONTARIO, Oregon — Another incident on Wednesday evening with a pilot who has been suspended from the Ontario Municipal Airport — but who is still able to fly there — spurred an airport committee member into seeking a letter from the city’s attorney stating that they are “free from legal ramifications” regarding repeated issues. A reply has not been received yet to Airport Manager Erik Hartley’s email mentioning that request to Attorney Larry Sullivan and City Manager Adam Brown on Thursday afternoon.

“Essentially, they are concerned that if there was an accident involving Clyde [Esplin], someone affected would sue the city, board, mgmt. etc. because he (Clyde) has been a known issue, as related to Safety,” reads the email. “This is becoming a rather big deal. I want to ensure our community is protected.”

A “near miss” incident on a runway on July 19 already has been sent to the FAA for investigation and, according to Sullivan, due process has to play out before a final ban can happen for Esplin.

There are many people voicing concerns with this, including Hartley himself, who provided a risk matrix for what happened on Wednesday — regarding Esplin’s ag aircraft not being tied down during a windstorm. The matrix states that the incident was ‘high risk’ based on the severity as ‘critical,’ and that the likelihood that it will happen again is ‘frequent,’ as it relates to aircraft being untied in a windstorm.

On Wednesday, Esplin’s aircraft was parked near the Vale District’s Bureau of Land Management’s SEAT base, where it deploys single-engine aircraft tankers and other aircraft in order to fight wildfires. Winds were sustained at about 30 mph that evening, according to historical weather data, and thunderstorms in the were also accompanied by a microburst that blew trees down throughout the area.

It was at about 6 p.m. that management from Frazier Aviation, the airports fixed-base operator, called Hartley to alert him that BLM SEAT Base Manager Brian Rindlisbacher and SEAT operators were attempting to talk to Esplin about moving his aircraft from where it was parked. Rindlisbacher told Hartley in an email on Thursday morning that the BLM paid for tie-downs in those parking areas through its lease. This essentially gives the agency first right of refusal to access to them, Hartley explained.

But the conversation between the BLM and Esplin on Wednesday “was apparently becoming difficult and the FBO notified me to monitor,” Hartley said.

As the storm intensified at about 7:46 p.m. Esplin’s aircraft, which was not tied down, began turning around and was “getting close to hitting a BLM SEAT aircraft.” Hartley tried to call Esplin “to no avail,” so sent him a text message stating that his new aircraft was in danger.

Shortly afterward, Esplin arrived at the airport, and it is noteworthy, Hartley says, that “at no time” did Esplin tie down his aircraft. Instead, he refused to speak with any airport management or BLM SEAT operators on site. Instead, he proceeded to move his jet out of his hangar next to his ag aircraft near the SEAT base. Hartley noted that Esplin is paying for a hangar but chose to move his aircraft outside. He said while it wasn’t a detriment to the operation at the airports, it is “telling of the stance” Esplin has taken.

“I let him know that between not tying down his aircraft, and nearly killing two people, in such a short span of time is very concerning. A video of the interaction was taken, and I’ve forward this on to the FAA, as they continue their investigation into Mr. Esplin,” Hartley said.

Furthermore, the event could have ultimately hampered firefighting efforts. According to Hartley, it could “reduce ability of crews to operate due to damage or increased workload. In summary, negligent situational awareness could have led to aircraft damage, negatively impacting the BLM’s ability to adequate combat wildfires.”

Hartley said while ag operations are vital to the community and the airport wants to work with them, an equal priority is safety.

“People’s lives are at risk,” he said. “It’s not just a squabble, it’s about operational safety.”

This is not the first time that Hartley has had to speak with Esplin regarding safety, and previous airport management staff and city council members have dealt with it, too.

According to former City Councilor Norm Crume, who also served on the airport committee for the 12 years he served, said that issues with Esplin stretch back to his time on the council. At times, parents of students in Treasure Valley Community College’s aviation program would complain to the council about Esplin’s flying pattern and how he wasn’t doing courtesy procedures, such as using radios to communicate with the airport and other pilots. However, he said that Sullivan always had the stance of not being able to remove Esplin.

Hartley is also familiar with several situations with student pilots, saying that Esplin has “cut off multiple TVCC students, while they are on their final go ahead.” The manager explained that the final go ahead can be called by any pilot for their final 3 miles of landing. Several times, Esplin has reportedly flew his aircraft right toward a student with his plane while they were on that incoming stretch.

“He takes off from whichever runway he wants to, and it doesn’t matter if a student pilot has called for that final 3 miles,” Hartley said.

He likened this to a student driver learning to drive on the freeway and getting cut off by a semi driver.

Hartley said he has apologized to TVCC flight instructor Brianna Paddon, who is “the biggest rockstar at the airport,” on behalf of the community airport.

Requests for comment from TVCC regarding student safety, and Rindlisbacher over safety concerns at the BLM SEAT base were not returned by press time.

While the FAA is investigating the issue, Crume says the federal agency doesn’t actually govern the Ontario airport and that they only make suggestions. That said, Crume says he didn’t understand when he was on the council, and he still doesn’t understand why the city can’t actually kick Esplin off the property.

“We know he’s a hazard and yet we can’t do anything. I would think we have the ability where we own it to take a certain person off that’s creating problems,” Crume said. “I don’t understand that the city, as owners, can’t demand that he doesn’t step foot on there.”

Hartley said the FAA doesn’t really get involved, and that management has already sought to ban him. While he doesn’t want the move to come across as not being ag friendly, the airport manager said, “We just had enough of all the safety events.”

“I am not trying to take someone’s livelihood away. I’m not trying to take ag away,” Hartley said. “I am trying to grow the entire pie so everyone gets a slice and the airport grows.”

However, Hartley says in aviation, the goal is to be predictive and proactive.

“I don’t want our airport to be reactive,” he said. “God forbid Clyde hits or kills somebody and then we have to answer to the feds and the [National Safety Transportation Board].”

Saying he was at a loss at what to do right now, he wants the community to know that airport management aims to be good stewards and to foster an airport that will benefit the city in money, reputation, fun, as a worksite and more.

“I just want the community to know, we are working diligently to keep them and the airport safe.”



  2. No "due process" is required. FAA can suspend or revoke a pilot certificate on a whim. Careless and reckless operation (even unattended aircraft on a ramp) is more than enough to get an FAA Operations Inspector involved.

    1. It does say above that the Feds "are investigating" and apparently have done nothing. Possibly indicating that this drama isn't the reason to panic that is implied by the local newspaper and airport manager. And the rockstar!

  3. Agreed.

    If all of the above is true then this guy seems to have a mental issue and the actions he's displayed this week alone should be enough to get his medical revoked and his license.

    Who pulls a multi-million dollar jet out of the hangar with bad weather approaching and risks getting it damaged? Who doesn't tie their plane down and risks damaging their plane and their livelihood plus endangers other peoples aircraft?

    Who cuts people off in the pattern (especially students) and intentionally does so without communicating his intentions?

    Careless and reckless piloting of an aircraft endangering people in the airport traffic area AND people on the ground!

    If al of the above is true he seems to have some mental issues and needs to lose his medical and his license permanently before he hurts someone in the air and/or on the ground.

    If they ever get him kicked out he sounds like the type that would continue to "buzz" the field just to create havoc and try to prove some point.

    Curious how a guy who runs an ag business makes enough money to buy a jet in the first place? Hmmm.

    1. One- Many jets never see a hangar. Two- You don't have both sides of the story.

  4. There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.

    1. The use of this phrase is not applicable for the situation.

  5. His Beech 400A Beechjet (N95GK) is for sale.
    Frequent flights from Oregon to Nebraska.

  6. At least the airport manager has apologized to "the biggest Rockstar at the airport". That comment indicates an attitude problem (or two) exists at this airport other than the ag pilot. I might not want to share the pattern with a fairly new cfi that's a "rockstar". (Google and social media presence seem to support this persona somewhat.)
    I'm guessing that it might be in the ag pilots interest to preserve his own aircraft, most pilots that have been around a while form opinions of their own on when and how to tie down, but who knows?
    The madman takes off on "whatever runway he wants to"? Ummm..uncontrolled field, folks! He may also "not file a flight plan", as our silly media loves to report after most GA accidents.
    Who know. Just being the devil's advocate.

    1. Sure he can takeoff on whatever runway he wants, the problem is apparently he wasn't always announcing his intentions.

  7. Hearing of him taking off on any runway he wants, you might mistakenly think RW15/33 is not the only designated runway they have.

    If he was a true renegade Ag Pilot, he would take off on the decommissioned crossing runway, big and inviting beyond the intersection with RW15/33.

    Odd aviation phrases in this story. Said nobody ever on the KONO CTAF:
    "Ontario Unicom, N(anyreg) is on final go ahead for runway one five”

    You just gotta expect Mr. Esplin had a role in that recall vote that ousted the council member. "They big mad!" Nobody should dislike a FSDO enough to feel right about dragging them into this middle school grudge match.

    Next up news story screaming headline:
    "Ag pilot turns Rockstar CFI into a newt, but CFI gets better"

  8. Esplin sounds like a major idiot----amazed he has lived so long. It'll catch up to him. You dont get that many chances to be an idiot in the air and live very long.

    Sounds like the city needs to grow a pair.

  9. No comment about the actions of the individual in question, but this:
    "The manager explained that the final go ahead can be called by any pilot for their final 3 miles of landing."
    So suppose I am flying a normal pattern at KONO, and I am on base about to turn final, and someone states that they are on final 3 miles out. Just what is it that this airport manager would expect that I should do in such a situation? A straight in approach (and as a practical matter a 3 mile final at an uncontrolled airport is a straight in approach) is perfectly legal when traffic conditions safely permit it, and when doing so stating your position 3 miles out is appropriate, but I think that "calling final" 3 miles out and then expect that others in the traffic pattern will yield to you is both absurd and unsafe.

    1. Agreed.. "3 mile final" depending on approach speed (for what...a 150?), wind, and error on the student pilots estimate of 3 miles could easily mean 5 minutes. Is the ag pilot, or anyone else, supposed to sit idle for 2 to 5 minutes waiting to depart because of a 65 mph speck on final 3 miles away? Because the airport manager wants it? (The only Erik Hartley shown in an airman certificate search got a student pilot certificate on '07.)
      Don't let the airport manager fly your plane. Especially one busy kissing up to rockstar cfi's.

  10. I just hope none of this gets the Rockstar upset. If the Rockstar gets upset and hysterical then it could take several days or even weeks to calm him down.