FAA Overturns Airport Glider Ban

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In a precedent-setting decision, the operator of a Southern California airport has been ordered by the FAA to allow resumption of glider operations or risk losing its federal grants. As we reported in 2009, Riverside County evicted more than 40 gliders and closed the grass strip they used, citing safety concerns. The agency ruled last week the county's reasoning was "flawed" and, after studying the issue, determined the airport layout will accommodate the "safe simultaneous operations of glider and powered aircraft." The crux of the matter was whether safety was used as a cover for discrimination against the gliders and the FAA suggested the eviction was an "unreasonable denial" of use at the airport. "The (county) is obligated by its grant assurances to operate the airport -- not just specific pieces of infrastructure on it -- on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination," the FAA said in its decision.

The FAA study and subsequent decision resulted from a complaint filed by the Orange County Soaring Association (OSCA) and backed by AOPA, the Soaring Society of America and CalPilots. OSCA President Larry Tuohino said the successful outcome of their appeal sends a message to federally funded airports all over the U.S. "This case has been closely followed nationally as a 'test case' for asserting the rights of glider pilots at other public-funded airports," said Larry Tuohino. To avoid jeopardizing the federal grants, the county has to lift the glider ban and enter "good faith" negotiations with any commercial glider operation that might want to rent space.