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Sun, Jan 07, 2007

FAA Rebuffs Skydiver Deal With DeLand Control Tower

Jumpers "In A Holding Pattern"

Alleged preferential treatment and unsafe practices are just two of the reasons the FAA has refused to sign off on a plan by officials in DeLand, FL and skydivers to retain a famous sky diving drop zone open with the construction of a new airport control tower.

Issues included unfairly giving preferential treatment to pilots at local skydiving center Skydive DeLand, and that some practices -- such as absolving those pilots from notifying the tower of each take off and landing -- were unsafe.

"The federal obligations require access for all aeronautical users, not just sky divers," said FAA Program Manager Rebecca Henry, to the city last month.

The plan, which requires FAA approval, was aimed at ensuring enough jumps at the drop zone to stay competitive. It developed over the course of more than four months last year.

Skydiving is big business in DeLand, with a devoted Central Florida fan base and a facility that attract jumpers from around the world. DeLand’s parachute industry employs about 500, and is considered one of the city’s main employers, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Skydive DeLand leaders repeatedly warned city officials that an airport control tower will slow their pilots, making it impossible to squeeze in enough jumps to lure professional skydivers.

Skydiving industry members said they expected to make some changes, but rejected the FAA's assertion the agreement would give them special treatment.

"Skydivers and sky-diving aircraft would get a little more flexibility and that doesn't harm any other airport user," said Mike Truffer, publisher of Skydiving magazine and a member of the committee that drafted the agreement.

City officials, meanwhile, have no plans to meet with skydivers to discuss redrafting the agreement until after an airport traffic study is completed by the city this spring. The study, which is required by the FAA, will detail activity at the airport, including the number of takeoffs, landings and accidents, as well projected airport growth.

"Right now we're in a holding pattern," said Nick Landgraff, DeLand's airport manager. "We're just going to have to wait and see."

FMI: www.skydivedeland.com, www.deland.org/airport

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