Aircraft Allowed To Fly Over Launch Area
Lexington (KY) Blue Grass Airport
air traffic controllers say the Federal Aviation Administration
should not have issued a waiver allowing the Bluegrass Rocketry
Society to conduct rocket launches Saturday into LEX airspace.
The FAA allowed the club to launch model rockets, some of which
were five feet long, about four miles from the airport into active
The controllers said that planes, including commercial aircraft,
flew through the launch area at the direction of a supervisor and
believe an errant rocket could very well have hit one of them,
according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
"You can see it's unsafe," said Randy Harris, president of the
Lexington local of the National Air Traffic Controllers
Laura Brown, FAA spokeswoman, said the Louisville FAA office
should, indeed, have consulted with the Lexington air traffic
manager before issuing the waiver.
"That didn't happen in this case," she said.
Brown said she knew of no aircraft that were endangered and the
FAA does allow things like rocket launches near an airport.
"We try to allow a variety of different uses of the airspace,"
The waiver was approved by Robert E. Kelly, Jr., an FAA official
in Louisville. "Mr. Kelly and I did not discuss the waiver prior to
its issuance," Duff Ortman, the FAA's air traffic manager in
Lexington said in an e-mail, adding he's opposed the rocket
launches for the last two years because of the potential
Ortman denied he directed controllers to conduct normal
departures through the launch area.
"There was no guidance issued by me precluding the controllers
from issuing any headings that they deemed necessary," he said.
Harris disagreed and contends controllers initially directed
planes away from the area, but Ortman instructed them to "put the
planes back on track" on the normal departure route -- directly
over the launch area.
Harris said his primary concern is ingestion of a rocket into a
jet engine, which would probably destroy the engine and force an
emergency landing. A rocket could easily go through the windshield
of an aircraft injuring the pilot or hit instruments critical to
maintaining control of the aircraft, he said.
Brown declined the newspaper's request to make Ortman and Kelly
available for an interview. But because Ortman believes the rocket
launches present a collision hazard, she said, they will no longer
be allowed, regardless of the waiver.
But she did not know whether the waiver would be rescinded.
Darryl Hankes, president of the rocket club, insisted no
aircraft were ever in danger during the launches.