There’s a battle brewing above the skies of the Lawrence Municipal Airport.
Area businessman William McCauley has filed a complaint against the city with the Federal Aviation Administration regarding whether he can operate a business that would use the airport as a landing zone for parachutists.
“I’m legally entitled to jump through that airspace,” McCauley said.
City commissioners recently asked for an update on the issue, and were told the FAA was still reviewing the complaint. But city officials have insisted that they have the ability to limit McCauley’s use of the airport for parachuting purposes.
A pair of consultants hired by the city to conduct a master plan for the airport said the city has an obligation to accommodate legitimate aviation activities, but can set “reasonable rules and regulations” for the airport.
“Maybe it could be something like a once a month deal, but if it truly were to become a regular event it would be very challenging to occur out there,” said Mike Dmyterko, a principal with Coffman Associates Airport Consultants.
The city contends that the airport is small enough that any place a parachutist lands will be pretty close to a runway. That means that aircraft in the area will have to be notified not to use the airport during those specific time periods. Because the Lawrence airport operates without an air traffic control tower, that communication becomes more difficult, the city has said.
But McCauley said that reasoning is full of “smoke and mirrors.” He cites several FAA regulations that he believes gives him the right to use the airport, especially given that the city has accepted millions of dollars in federal aviation grants that come with the requirement that the city not discriminate against legitimate aviation uses at the airport.
McCauley said communication with aircraft in the area won’t be a problem because pilots are required to monitor the frequency from the Kansas City Air Traffic Control Center, which will provide at least four warnings to aircraft in the area prior to and during a parachute jump.
“There is no reason to deny this from a safety standpoint,” McCauley said.
Neither the city nor McCauley had an estimate on when the FAA may rule on the issue.