Aviation Groups Protest Arizona Airport’s Move To Displace Skydive Firm


Four years ago, a tandem-skydiving provider prevailed in its Part 16 protest against the city of Casa Grande, Arizona, apparently clearing the path for the company to establish a base of operation at the city-managed airport. Ruling that the city had unjustifiably refused the company’s request to set up a base of operation at Casa Grande Municipal Airport (KCGZ), the FAA ruled in 2017 that the city had violated two airport grant assurances and unjustly discriminated against Phoenix Area Skydiving (PAS). The agency mandated “corrective action” on the part of the city.

But in a move described by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) as “a fast one,” the city bought a five-acre plot three miles from the airport, designated the land as “airport property,” and told PAS that was where they could set up their base. Surprisingly, the FAA approved the corrective action, leading the U.S. Parachute Association, AOPA, the National Business Aviation Association and the Helicopter Association International to file an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief on behalf of PAS in response, protesting the action in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

AOPA general counsel Justine Harrison said, “The FAA’s approval of a sham airport corrective plan is troubling and sets a terrible standard and could be a very slippery slope. Creating a disconnected mosaic of properties and calling them an airport defies both common sense and precedent. The tenant certainly won the Part 16 case, but because of the airport and FAA’s subsequent actions, it comes out a loser.”

The AOPA attorney added, “We’ve already heard that helicopter operators could be a logical next group to be moved to ‘new’ airport property. Who knows what other groups labeled as ‘less desirable,’ but who have the legal right to operate on the airport, could be sent into exile, miles away from airport infrastructure?”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Whether Paul B. and AOPA like it or not, ALL new drop zones should be placed at LEAST 3 miles from busy airport boundaries. KCGZ has 100+ local business and pleasure operations per day with an ILS in constant practice use by a dozen Phoenix area flight schools. Buy a damn shuttle bus. Maybe city should offer one!
    Would you establish a practice area for remote control airplane hobbyists on a tiedown ramp or back taxiway?
    I support the current Casa Grande airport and city manager 100% for this creative safety initiative. The city has not always been this av-smart. Years ago it harassed independent mechanics operating out of T hangars. Early 80’s it greedily accepted and installed ILS-5 components [rejected at the 11th hour by NIMBY types in nearby Chandler] and extended the runway for them, rejecting the urgent advice of the CAAG regional transportation planner [a veteran CFI] to bury approach end 23 powerlines at the same time. Did not take long before a 172 on a nighttime approach snagged those lines with its main gear, flipped midair, and smashed inverted onto the localizer array. It was a high wing Cessna so no serious injuries. A rumored contributing factor was that the PIC legislator’s son in the backseat had been smoking dope the previous hour enroute.

    • I strongly disagree. There is no reason for this. Shuttle buses cost money and slow the entire operation down, I have experience with shuttles, due to the drop zone I flew for operated on a grass strip that would be unusable in the spring while the snow melted. As far as remote control hobbyists, Congress opened the door on that issue when the rules were changed to include those hobbyists to FAA control. There are plenty of other airports that operate with drop zones on the property directly next to their runway without any safety issues. This is a pure case of discriminatory access. Hopefully the FAA administrator will intervene, but since he is an “airline guy” that I never supported his selection, I am not holding my breath on that happening.

      • I heartily disagree with WOM. KDED, DeLand, Florida hosts one of the most (if not THE most active skydive drop zones in the world, with parachutists landing in designated areas on the airport This operation has been ongoing since 1982. A very active Radio Control Aircraft (not drone) club has operated from the north end of closed runway 18-36 for almost 30 years. KDED is a non-towered airport, and supports more than 300 GA operations per year. That’s just the bare bones information of the activity at KDED … there is much more.

        Everything and everyone seem to work together to make it all happen in relative safely.

          • Wow, busy little field. Assuming most traffic is in the 06:00 to 24:00 time period, that’s an AVERAGE of one takeoff or landing operation every 3.5 minutes over that timeframe.

        • Robert,
          DeLand is the one place I’ve landed with divers. Perhaps I’m unusual, but I couldn’t get a good sense what was going on over the radio. Luckily, I was with a company instructor who was familiar with DeLand so, IIRC, we extended our base.

          While I’m never a fan of groups trying to exclude others, I’m always a fan of everyone trying to be a good neighbor and examining if there isn’t a way to reduce impact on others. Thinking about what a low time pilot with no experience with jumpers might want to hear, or in the Casa Grande case, what an IFR jet pilot on approach might need to hear, and including on every operation might be good?

  2. Simple.

    Force the city to construct a 3 mile, straight line, 200ft wide taxiway to the 5 acre airport annex. Complete with off airport access fencing for those 3 miles.

    If not, they are denying aircraft access to that part of the airport. If they deny aircraft access, then it’s not an airport.

    • I like the way you think! What’s NEXT–“get rid of those dangerous HOMEBUILTS?”

      I’m an airport operator myself–and a former skydiver. We’ve hosted skydiving meets with over 300 parachutists and a dozen skydiving aircraft–it hasn’t been a problem.

      All too often, local “experts” opine that “we shouldn’t allow skydivers to land on the airport”–but Part 103 of the FARs gives them the right to do so–with limitations. The “experts” usually insist that “they could land NEXT to the airport–it would be safer.” NOT TRUE–it means that parachutists under canopy would be coming down through the traffic pattern. The safest place for parachutists to land is a designated spot on the airport, and since BOTH SKYDIVERS AND AIRCRAFT LAND INTO THE WIND, BOTH PARACHUTISTS AND PILOTS KNOW WHERE TO LOOK FOR EACH OTHER.


  3. What about drone aircraft operations? Do they get to fly where they want? I have a feeling this was more about skydivers flying into the traffic pattern.
    However, claiming a remote property is part of the airport is silly. KATL, Atlanta’s airport owns land in northern Georgia. Is that class B airspace? Is it really part of the airport when it comes to aircraft operations? Of course not.

  4. If I’m confused, I guess others are as well. What exactly is included in the “base of operation”? A storefront? Hangar? Drop zone?

    It’s impossible to fix, but it would be nice if in the stories it was possible to tell the quality of the parties involved. Also, the incentives. Is the airport benefitting financially from biz jet, charter, or airline activities that are being inconvenienced? Is the sky dive operation a really professional one, or one of the not so nice ones? Who is related to whom around there? Etc.

    Houston Hobby pushed out a large chunk of its GA operations years ago about the same time that SWA made a large, and laudable, investment in the facility (As far as most of us could tell, Southwest ponied up for things that airlines and sports teams generally insist the tax payers provide). The deal seemed awfully nice, so it had to be wondered if their wasn’t a connection to the destruction of the flight school and largest GA parking provider. What’s the cost of the occasional delay? Did SWA’s underwriters not like the situation? Who knows?

    There’s always these sorts of conflicts and I’m sure many of us know cases where something local looked to us much different than it got reported.

    At any rate, the story of this story isn’t really the local situation, it’s the chance of this solution becoming a way that the “preferred” interests around an airport push out the “undesirables” while continuing to suck up federal funding.

  5. This has nothing to do with safety. It is a small group of pilots and business owners at Casa Grande who think that the airport belongs to them, and they try to dictate how it’s run and who can use it. I’m a long time tenant at KCGZ, by the way.
    There are two primary individuals involved. Both are “friends of the City” and are allowed to get away with anything they want on the field. For example: did you know that there is a PB4Y-2 based at KCGZ? This aircraft weighs 27,000lbs empty, 65,000lbs mtow. Single main gear. The airport is rated for 35,000 lbs single gear operations. The City is well aware of this but won’t do anything about it. Why? “Friend of the City” They are happy to sit back and let this plane destroy the ramp and runway. (it’s happening, go land there)
    Not only are they trying to ban the skydivers, they’ve tried to ban certain pilots from the field. (something the FAA has told them they CANNOT do)
    They’ve pulled all seating out of the terminal because “the terminal is not an appropriate place for pilots or tenants to congregate.” The terminal is a big empty. They have stated that the majority of the tenant population at KCGZ is not the kind of people that they want the public and the business jets to see when they arrive.
    As for experimental aircraft: yes, they have stated that they want they experimental aircraft gone too (except those owned and worked on by the aforementioned individuals). They’ve also tried to ban hot air balloons from taking off or landing at the airport or even transitioning the airspace. All in the name of “safety”. (BTW, hot air balloons are N-numbered aircraft and have the right to use the airport)
    This all boils down to a power play. The City thinks they have the right to do what they want and that the FAA rules and regulations don’t apply to them. As long as they receive AIP funds they are required to comply. Their only option would be to pay back a massive amount to the FAA, drop out of the national airport system and become private, something the FAA would never allow for several reasons. But hey, if they could maybe then they could actually get a sweeper on the field periodically and sweep up the FOD is worse than any other airport in the area.
    If you ever get the chance to land at KCGZ … don’t. Do yourself a favor and land at any of the other airports in the area. You, and your aircraft, will be much happier.

    • Most places these things happen it seems to be related to Jet A sales, although influence is a common problem if it’s not related to cash it tends to be less of an issue. Who gets the money now?

      I’m wondering if there needs to be a move to block municipalities from managing the fuel sales. All the craziness that governments like to ascribe to profit motive seems linked to the fact that people in government go nuts over what seems to be small amounts of money that most business people wouldn’t risk anything over.

      • It’s not related to Jet A sales here. In fact, fuel sales are at an all time low. The City’s changes have driven people away. Used to be that planes would be lined up five or six deep waiting to get gas. That was back when KCGZ was a warm, inviting airport to the GA community. Now the number of landings there have gone into the toilet. There used to be impromptu and scheduled fly-ins (i.e. Cactus and Copperstate), Young Eagles rallies, etc. Now it’s a ghost town. The GA population and flight schools fly over to A39. Fuel is cheaper and they welcome pilots. Casa Grande believes the airport is a drag on the city and that the only benefit are the aforementioned people’s businesses. When speaking to them about the Copperstate fly-in I was told by the airport manager / Economic Developement manager “the fly-in is a net loss to the City.” I guess they don’t count hotel occupancy, food sales, etc. It’s funny how the non-aviation events don’t cost the City money.
        I should tell you about how they handle private hangers on the field.
        The City would, if they could, shut down the airport in a heartbeat. There are zero supporters in City government.

  6. Unfortunately the FAA already set a bad precedent with the way the Santa Monica airport situation was handled. I think there are those in the FAA bureaucracy who could not care less about GA and smaller airport operations.