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FAA backs skydivers in flap with airport

January 21, 1998

FAA backs skydivers in flap with airport

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Skydivers soon may be jumping from planes over the Washington County Regional Airport despite objections from the airport's manager and the Washington County Commissioners.

The Federal Aviation Administration has told airport officials they must implement a plan to allow skydivers to jump onto airport property by April 1 or risk losing millions of dollars in federal airport improvement funds, airport officials said Tuesday.

Hagerstown businessman and expert skydiver Michael Mooers said he has been trying for six years to convince airport officials to permit skydiving and asked the FAA to intervene.

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"I can't tell you how upset it makes me. I'm so against this," said Airport Manager Carolyn S. Motz.

"We believe that it will affect the safety, efficiency and utility of the airport," said Motz, who added that she feels local airport officials are in a better position than the FAA to decide what's safe at the airport.

Motz said she fears that allowing skydivers to jump near Interstate 81 and the Citicorp day-care center could pose safety problems.

Mooers said safety isn't an issue. He said skydiving by experts would be safer than allowing beginner pilots to fly aircraft.

Motz said the USAir Express commuter carrier has objected to skydiving, which would be restricted to times when commuter or charter aircraft aren't using the airport.

Airport operations manager Brandon Taksa has written a skydiving plan under which skydivers would pay for liability insurance.

Motz said she didn't know if such a plan would prevent the county from being held liable in the event of an accident.

The plan would allow only expert divers to use the airport, and would bar commercial skydiving.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook told Motz and Taksa that the commissioners would try to enlist the aid of the county's congressional representatives.

"I think there is a time to buck the federal government. Let's play hardball," said County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers.

Mooers, who piloted his first plane at age 16 at the Hagerstown Airport, said the county can't discriminate against a legitimate aeronautical activity as defined by the FAA.

"We're based here. We pay our county taxes. I support the airport. There's no reason why skydiving shouldn't be permitted," he said.

Mooers said he would skydive only at times, such as 7 a.m. on weekends, when no other aircraft were in the area.

He said his group of four parachutists - himself, his two brothers and his business partner, Walter Tinkler - would leave the plane at 10,000 feet, free fall for about a minute and then open their parachutes. They'd be on the ground in about five minutes, he said.

"It's not like bodies are constantly falling out of the sky," he said.

Mooers, who has made more than 1,000 jumps, said he and other experts would have no problem landing safely at the airport.

Mooers, 47, said he was president of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization local at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in 1981 when the union went on strike and its members subsequently were fired by President Ronald Reagan.

Mooers works as a part-time air traffic controller at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg, W.Va.; owns Land-Tech Property Consultants, which manages Londontowne Apartments, Robinwood Court and College Plaza; and volunteers as a paramedic for Community Rescue Service in Hagerstown.

Mooers and Tinkler own Classic Radio Air Power, a company that intends to fly advertising banners from a 1943 Stearman biplane out of Washington County Regional Airport.

Mooers said he first tried skydiving in 1981.

"After you do it, there's nothing quite like it," he said.

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