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Commission Examines Ultra-Light Access At Airport

POSTED May 17, 2011 8:46 p.m.

Oakdale Airport Commission members meeting on Thursday, May 12, looked into allowing private vehicle access across the runways for the purpose of operating powered parachutes; also known as “ultra-light vehicles.”

According to the FAA, powered parachutes, which are a one or two-person motorized cart with a “wing” or parachute attached, are classified as vehicles and not aircraft and are thus not required to be registered or for the operator to have a pilot’s license.

They are also not required to meet the airworthiness certification standards specified for aircraft and their “pilots” are not required to meet any aeronautical knowledge, age, or experience requirements or to have medical certificates that licensed pilots acquire.

Lee Delano has made numerous presentations to the commission to explore making the Oakdale Municipal Airport more accessible to the users of powered parachutes.

The vehicles need a soft field or dirt ground to land, but after landing, a larger vehicle such as a pick-up truck, needs to respond to recover the cart and pilot. The local operators have been using the east side of the airport to land.

Many licensed pilots in the aeronautical community feel using “ultra-lights” near an airport where aircraft are operating is dangerous because the powered parachutes don’t have a radio to communicate or be notified of the traffic of other airplanes in the area. The powered parachutes travel much slower than standard airplanes and are not as maneuverable in an emergency or urgent situations.

During the discussion, Oakdale Public Works Director Joe Leach stated there was nothing on file with the city prohibiting the operation of the powered parachutes at the airport.

Commissioner Richard Jorgensen asked Leach if any research or an opinion had been obtained from the FAA about the issue. When Leach said the FAA had not been contacted, Jorgensen made a motion to direct staff to contact the FAA.

The vote was 2-2 and did not pass. Member Kendra Peterson was not present at the meeting. Though it wasn’t presented as an Experimental Aircraft Association issue, Lee Delano is an active member of the EAA Chapter 90 in Oakdale. The EAA is an international aviation membership association that enjoys all types of airplanes, including experimental aircraft such as powered parachutes. Airport Commission members Kevin Benziger and Dennis Bailey, who cast the dissenting votes for the FAA input into the matter, are currently officers on the EAA board.

Another issue pointed out during discussion was Oakdale City Ordinance 3-20 that prohibits private vehicles, other than emergency and city service vehicles, from driving on, or crossing, the runway. Delano wished to see the ordinance modified so marked private vehicles with a beacon or flags could travel to the landed powered parachutes.

During his presentation, Delano admitted that he had been violating the ordinance when the powered parachutes were operating at the airport.

The commission eventually directed city staff to provide controlled keys of an access gate closest to the field area to allow private vehicle access so the runway wouldn’t need to be crossed.

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