SC Town Council Votes To Restrict Aircraft Weight At City-Owned Airport

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Last week, the Holly Hill (South Carolina) Town Council voted to ban any aircraft weighing less than 600 pounds at city-owned Holly Hill Airport (5J5), which has a 3,900-foot turf runway. According to the council, the decision was made “to protect the health and welfare of people at the airport” in light of two accidents that occurred in the past 18 months. One of those accidents, in February 2022, involved a Flightstar II light sport aircraft. According to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) website, an “ultralight” aircraft has a maximum empty weight of 254 pounds, and a light sport aircraft has a maximum empty weight of 1,320 pounds.

In past meetings, the town’s mayor, Billy Chavis, has expressed his concern that any crash carries the risk of legal liability for the town. “We don’t have anybody that’s going to go out there and babysit you guys, and if you guys can’t police yourselves … the easiest way for us to do business is to ban certain types of aircraft—the same type of aircraft that have crashed,” Chavis remarked.

However, the mayor’s comments drew backlash from local pilots who argued that neither crash involved ultralight aircraft but rather light sport aircraft. Pilots also pointed to the long-standing safety record on the field—noting that only four crashes had occurred in 60 years prior to the two recent incidents.

According to a local news station, the president of the local EAA chapter, David Chandler, said the ban means he can no longer operate his aircraft on the field. “The issues and the accidents that happen with these light aircraft, they’re not the airplane’s fault,” said Chandler. “The airplane is not the issue. They’re not breaking up; they’re not falling apart. It’s the pilot who’s making a poor decision to go fly it outside of its limitations.”

Under the new restrictions, flying an unpermitted aircraft at Holly Hill Airport would result in a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment.

In a statement to AVweb, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association called the recent ban a “disappointment,” adding that the organization has been made aware of some incompatible land uses planned around the airport. “The local leaders seemingly haven’t been able to recognize the value of having a community airport and improve upon it; instead, they appear to be slowly chipping away at the airport with restrictions such as the most recent one regarding ultralights,” said AOPA Southern Regional Manager Stacey Heaton.

“Unfortunately, without a local visionary leader for the airport, there is nothing to compel the town to look toward a better future for aviation in their community. If the airport were federally-grant-obligated, a ban such as this would have needed to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and that is a rare occurrence,” said Heaton.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Well written Amelia, another small town airport losing support from the very officials elected to nurture it. Minor correction, 1,320 lbs. is the maximum (not the minimum) Light Sport aircraft category takeoff weight, unless it’s a seaplane, that’s 1,430 lbs. maximum takeoff weight.

  2. Sounds like the leader of the gang (called the Mayor, in this case) has other more profitable plans for the airport land. So he blames a group that had no accidents, and fear of liability when no one sued, for the new rule. He’s clearly taking advantage of the situation to advance other land uses. Who is the raven on his shoulder?

    • Well, it’s the cities airport. City airports make noise restrictions all the time. Probably this is a way to stop low altitude buzzing complaints from city people wanting quiet along with their peace.

    • I’m not so sure I agree with this assessment. There may be other explanations. If it is the mayor and the current counsel, perhaps someone familiar with that airport could remind the present council of the City’s Comprehensive Plan commissioned by the council in 2018 for the period 2018-2028.

      The plan has a section on transportation and acknowledges all modes, from walking to aviation and specifically recognizes the airport as an asset. The Report is captioned with a vision statement, “To Cherish Our Past, While Embracing Our Future, To Keep Holly Hill Alive and Relevant.”

      Small GA airports do this. I turned down a number of jobs because they would not allow me to fly myself to regional facilities dramatically increasing my time on the road.

      My last job before retirement had it written into the contract. Small airports help attract quality industry, jobs and people, all of which they asked for in the Plan. While LSA/UL are generally recreational, this Plan does not sound like a community looking to close its local airport. We do need to remind the council and mayor of the content of the plan and the incongruity of their action with their plan and hopes for the City.

  3. “ the easiest way for us to do business is to ban certain types of aircraft—the same type of aircraft that have crashed,”

    So, I take it there are no car crashes in this town?

  4. Spot on Robert. You have to wonder what these goons are thinking.
    As a young man I used to contemplate getting involved in politics. After a while I came to the conclusion that probably I wasn’t clever enough. Nowadays as an older fella I realize I wasn’t dumb enough.

    • How many of the council members are former residents of Santa Monica?

      They’re a cancer disguised as I D 10 T’s

  5. Dangerous precedent set here by the Mayor and local politicos governing the city owned and run Holly Hill Airport SC.
    From the Mayor’s tone of his remarks and his apparent attitude, it certainly appears that they intend to use developer encroachment upon the airport with the intent to eventually shut it down and hand the land parcel over to the developers for a hefty municipal ratable and budget boon.
    What’s next ? Banning Beech Bonazas by a local mayor in xxxx state where the local airport is City or county owned and operated and that politico feels that because 2 Bonazas in 35 years had gear up landings there — the need to ban Bonanzas is politically important?

  6. Next he will try and ban leaded fuel. Then shorten the runway. Noise issues of course. Then let’s see how long it takes before the For Sale sign goes up. Which is probably the end goal anyway. But there’s a process see….

  7. Looking at Google maps, the airport seems to be outside the city limits. Sure, the property may be city owned, but can the city pass an ordinance regarding activities outside city limits?

    If that’s the case, can one city purchase property 500 miles away and levy fines and imprisonment regarding activity in that property?

    I dunno, just looking at what relief may be available.

  8. But since they never took Federal money for the airport, it’s theirs to do as they please. Regrettable, but at the end of the day, the only recourse is a public campaign to get voters to press the city council, and the voting public usually has little understanding of the value of an airport.

    • I think there’s another – better – option.

      The local pilots could create a privately held corporation and buy the airport from the city. The city is free of liability concerns while keeping the field in the community. Win win. Easy peasy. The airport gets controlled by folks who have “skin in the game.” No downside.

      And to address what I’m sure will be the loudest shouts…

      Crowd Funding. A well organized funding effort properly publicized to the FLYING public would almost certainly result in appropriate funding.

      Of course this would never happen, but one can dream. We can’t continue to expect the public largesse to support out interest, regardless of whether that interest is of value to the public or not. The greater public already doesn’t see the value, so it’s incumbent upon those of us who do to step up and “put our money where our mouths are.” Elected officials can’t keep selling this to their constituency forever.

  9. Honest question – what power does the town have to enforce/collect any assessed fines? This is especially true if the plane owner doesn’t live in the town. The mayor himself said they can’t be out there to “police” what is going on (total nanny-state perspective by the way).

  10. The problem with any “ban” is that many people are not affected and accept it. What they don’t realize is that first the ban starts with 600lbs next it’s 1200lbs.

  11. What’s the point of the airport at all?

    If you can’t convince voters it’s worthwhile, then you eventually lose. AOPA was supposed to do that. Instead, they sell wine and build personal relationships in government for some reason we don’t actually understand anymore.

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