Gliders File Complaint with FAA Against Hemet Airport

HEMET – Glider pilots banned from Hemet-Ryan Airport filed a formal complaint Wednesday with the Federal Aviation Administration in hopes of regaining access and flying again.

The complaint against Riverside County asks the FAA to consider “corrective action” by requiring county officials to reopen the glider runway. The complaint also recommends that the FAA suspend or deny federal funding until the county restores access to all types of aircraft.

Airports that accept federal funding are supposed to allow all kinds of aeronautic activities.

Glider pilots Mary Rust, Larry Touhino and Chris Mannion, as well as the nonprofit Orange County Soaring Association glider flying club, are named as complainants in a document presented to the FAA by attorney Ronald Cozad.

Cozad is also regional vice president for the California Pilots Association.

Officials with the Riverside County Economic Development Agency, which owns and operates the 440-acre Hemet-Ryan Airport, declined to comment about the complaint.

Touhino, president of the Orange County Soaring Association, said he and other glider pilots had hoped to avoid having to file a complaint with the FAA.

“We’re not here to fight, but rather to fly,” Touhino said. “We are always open to negotiation (with the county).”

County officials ordered glider enthusiasts in July to vacate the airport by Oct. 1 after the Sailplane Enterprises Inc. glider school terminated its lease. County officials cited safety issues relating to gliders that the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics had pointed out, as well as the county’s plans to expand Cal Fire firefighting operations and other airport development plans.

Glider enthusiasts contend that Caltrans officials told them any safety concerns can be resolved.

The complaint that was filed in Washington, D.C., alleges the county “provided no rationale for its decision” to ban gliders and did not provide documentation to support why glider operations pose safety risks to general aviation traffic or Cal Fire pilots.

The complaint alleges the county “simply re-asserts the unsupported conclusion that … an airport sponsor may reasonably restrict aeronautical activities when there is a clear need to ensure safe and efficient airport operations.”

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA’s Western Pacific region, said an airport operator can impose restrictions on some aeronautic activities to ensure safety, but the restrictions must be reasonable and “not unjustly discriminatory.” Gregor said the FAA must make the official determination before gliders can be banned from Hemet-Ryan Airport.

“The FAA has not officially made that determination and, as of (Oct. 1), there is no conclusive evidence that glider operations are unsafe,” Gregor said.

Officials with both the California Pilots Association and the national Airplane Owners and Pilots Association said they plan to closely monitor what happens with this complaint because more airports are attempting to limit access to aircraft.

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