Lawrence City Commission to review FAA safety assessment for skydiving at the airport

This aerial photograph from March 17, 2009, shows the Lawrence Municipal Airport. This view is from the southeast looking to the northwest. The three areas framed with a red dashed line have been determined by an off-site Federal Aviation Administration study to be potentially safe to accommodate parachute landings, as long as certain provisions are met. However, the Lawrence City Commission will still have to determine whether skydiving should be allowed at the airport, and that decision likely will not come as early as this week.

After much back-and-forth regarding requests to allow skydiving drop zones at the Lawrence Municipal Airport, a new report may provide the most guidance yet on whether the activity would be safe.

As part of their meeting Tuesday, city commissioners will review a memorandum summarizing an off-site safety assessment by the Federal Aviation Administration. The assessment determined three areas at the airport could safely accommodate parachute landing areas for skydiving, as long as 13 provisions are met.

But some members of the city’s Aviation Advisory Board still have concerns. Board member Richard Haig said he doesn’t see the FAA determination as a green light for allowing skydiving at the airport.

“This is just guidance for the city,” Haig said. “Ultimately, the city owns the airport and the city is responsible for the safe operation of the airport.”

In what is known as a desk audit assessment, the FAA examined documents, diagrams of the proposed parachute landing areas and Google Earth measuring tools to complete the study, according to the memorandum. The FAA looked at eight proposed parachute landing areas and determined that three were safe.

Some safety provisions include that radio transmissions will be conducted by the jump aircraft to alert anyone in the area that a jump is in progress and that jumpers will be briefed on procedures to remain clear of runways, taxiways and aprons.

In 2015, six requests from different individuals were made to use the airport as a skydiving drop zone. At that time, City Commissioner Matthew Herbert requested that a safety study be completed.

As a recipient of federal funding for the airport, the city has to keep the airport open to all aviation activities. There are exceptions, and the city denied a proposal in 2010 to open a skydiving center at the airport based on several factors, including the safety of other flight operations. The air ambulance service LifeStar, which uses the airport, opposed that request and said it could delay the takeoffs of its helicopters and potentially require the relocation of its operations.

The FAA memorandum states the three parachute landing areas were safe to operate alongside LifeStar. It states that those locations could mitigate the risks of operating both operations at the airport by placing approximately four-tenths of a mile between the parachute landing area and the helicopter operation.

Haig said he still has concerns about LifeStar and that he wasn’t sure why four-tenths of a mile would mean both could operate safely. He said that he expected that element to be a major point in the discussion on Tuesday.

“The safety aspect of LifeStar is the biggest thing,” Haig said. “We just need to make sure and keep those guys going because they’re a huge asset to the community.”

Since 1929, the city has owned and operated the airport, which is located on U.S. Highway 24 and covers nearly 500 acres. The airport averages more than 100 daily flight operations of single-engine, twin-engine and business jets, according to the city’s website.

The advisory board is only a recommending body, and the commissioners will make the final decision regarding whether a parachute drop zone for skydivers can be located at the airport. Though, the commission isn’t likely to make final decisions as part of its meeting Tuesday.

City staff are recommending that commissioners refer the FAA assessment to the Aviation Advisory Board for review and assistance with developing safety standards for skydiving activities.

The City Commission meets at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.