City of Middletown Statement
There have been a number of statements made about the Middletown City Council decision to improve safety by relocating the drop zone (DZ) for skydivers landing on airport property.
Start Skydiving ownership and supporters strongly oppose this measure and have made a number of claims. Much of the information being shared by the business owner is either inaccurate or not the whole story. There have been accusations and much discussion on social media and in media interviews. We want to clear up misconceptions and give the public the city’s perspective.
Start Skydiving has historically monopolized many of the assets of the airport by wearing three different hats: Airport Manager, Fixed Base Operator, and tenant business owner operating at the airport. In recent years, the hats of Airport Manager and Fixed Base Operator have been returned to the City. The City can understand that Start Skydiving is not used to simply operating as a tenant business owner at the airport, but it is simply false that the council has not reached out to the ownership of Start Skydiving.
Since at least June of 2019, the city of Middletown has made several attempts to engage with Start Skydiving. We have a record of the letters sent outlining the DZ relocation and other matters involving non-compliance with leases and other agreements, inviting engagement and notifying the company of steps that would be taken. Start has not responded to the City staff’s attempts to search for reasonable alternatives but has instead proclaimed on social media and to the Council that the Council should just leave things as they are. The Council and City staff are very disappointed in the lack of response from Start Skydiving. But more than that, Start Skydiving has absolutely refused to engage on alternative locations instead resting on “where we’ve been for 10 years has been fine, why would we change it?”
To comply with a 2017 grant from the FAA, Middletown is updating its Airport Master Plan and Airport Layout Plan. The final plan must place all assets and layouts for the airport. Drop zones must be mapped. FAA Circular 90-66B, Section 12.5.4 states: “When a DZ has been established at an airport, parachutists are expected to land within the DZ. At airports that have not established DZs, parachutists should avoid landing on runways, taxiways, aprons and their associated safety areas.”
Before making the decision to relocate the drop zone, Middletown City Council and City officials engaged experts and advisors and reached out to the Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) for recommendations and considerations. There is complete consensus that it is unsafe for skydivers to land on the runway or to cross the runway, which they currently do to access the Start Skydiving hangar. Separating the landing zones for aircraft and skydivers is safer for everyone. The new location is supported by the airport manager, hired consultants, and the airport commission. Council heard input from all the affected stakeholders (including Start Skydiving) and made the decision it believes will be in the best interest of the airport as a whole and all of its users. The only one complaining about the decision is Start Skydiving.
Consultants with expertise in airport safety advised on where a new DZ should be located on airport property and that the new DZ provides skydivers with more time to adjust their landings. The downwind issue that has been raised by Start Skydiving is not valid, according to expert opinions.
The Council reviewed all materials and gave conscientious consideration to options, then took the advice and made the decision to relocate the DZ. Council made the decision at the May 5 public meeting following a series of public meetings at which the issue was discussed and which were attended by Start Skydiving.
FAA regulations make local airport the main arbiter of safety concerns. The Middletown Regional Airport has the discretion to designate DZs. The airport is public space required by law to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The airport is in compliance. One of the claims made my Mr. Hart is that those with disabilities will no longer be able to participate in skydiving. The city is very disappointed that after more than a year of attempts to work with Start Skydiving, this topic has not been raised until now. Nonetheless, the City is certainly open to exploring reasonable suggestions to accommodate those with disabilities.
This is not a matter of the city intending to harm Start Skydiving or any other business. The decision was made to improve safety for all airport users, improve the airport’s role as a driver of economic development and comply with the FAA grant requirements for a master plan and layout plan. Middletown welcomes everyone to the airport, including those with recreational purposes such as skydiving.
It is very disappointing that Start Skydiving and supporters have resorted to personal attacks and allegations about council members’ integrity. The City Council and City authorities have approached this matter in a professional and responsible way, including reviewing all materials, including input from the City Airport Commission as well as Start Skydiving, and seeking advice from experts.
The City Council welcomes input from any resident. Our council members are heavily involved in the community and elected to their positions by the public. It is unacceptable and frankly cruel to make the personal attacks that have been posted on social media.
Although the City’s intent is not to run Start Skydiving away from the airport, the City does need to take a broader perspective than just the interests of Start Skydiving in making its decisions regarding the future of the airport. The City has not told Start Skydiving that it may not continue operations at the airport, we have simply asked the company to respect our obligation to map the future of the airport, in part by determining the safest and most beneficial location for DZs on the airport property. We have plenty of space at the airport to accommodate many different aeronautical uses and are committed to continuing to provide space on the airport for interested operators to perform skydiving jumps. The City is even now preparing the relocated DZs for future use by Start Skydiving or any other interested skydiving group.
Citizens with questions may contact Acting City Manager Susan Cohen, firstname.lastname@example.org or council members. We ask for courtesy and will respond courteously and honestly.