Aviation board proposes guidelines for skydiving at Lawrence airport

This file photo from March 2009 shows the Lawrence Municipal Airport from the southeast looking northwest.

After years of back and forth, the path is getting clearer for skydiving businesses that want to operate at the city-owned Lawrence Municipal Airport.

A subcommittee of the Aviation Advisory Board recently released the first draft of parachute procedures for the airport, which provide guidelines for skydiving operations. AAB Chair Richard Haig said the guidelines set standards to protect the city and airport users.

“If somebody comes in, they can’t act in a reckless manner and create an unsafe environment at the airport,” Haig said.

The board posted the draft guidelines this week, which consist of 19 policies and procedures that any parachute operator must abide by. Those include requirements related to insurance and release of liability, as well as various operation protocols.

The question of skydiving at the airport was raised in 2009, when the city rejected a proposal from Lawrence resident William McCauley to open such a business. McCauley, who filed another proposal in 2014, has criticized what he has said is an unfriendly attitude toward skydiving.

After six separate requests were made in 2015 to use the airport as a skydiving drop zone, the city requested the Federal Aviation Administration assess whether skydiving could safely operate there.

In February, the topic went before the City Commission after an off-site safety assessment by the FAA indicated that three areas at the airport could safely accommodate parachute landing areas for skydiving. At that time, the commission referred the topic to legal staff for a specific opinion on whether it has discretion in allowing skydiving.

City Attorney Toni Wheeler said via email that whether the city has discretion is “not an entirely settled question under the law.” However, Wheeler said her office thinks it is prudent for the City Commission to consider adopting minimum standards for skydiving operations.

In combination with the airport’s standards for commercial operations, Haig said the guidelines do provide the city some discretion. He said the city would have the right to suspend or stop skydiving activities if guidelines aren’t followed.

“It gives the city some policing powers to make sure they operate in a safe manner,” Haig said.

The guidelines also aim to address concerns previously raised by LifeStar, the ambulance helicopter service that operates out of the airport. LifeStar representatives have told the commission they are concerned that skydiving could interfere with its operations or delay takeoffs.

Item number 15 on the draft guidelines states that skydiving operators must have personnel in place at all times to monitor the status of medical flights, which will be given priority over parachute operations.

Since the 2009 proposal, there have been FAA reviews, discussions and correspondence regarding the issue, resulting in a file of staff memos 48 pages long.

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 Aviation Advisory Board will receive public comment on the draft policies and procedures for skydiving businesses at its meeting on Oct. 4. Haig said this is the first step in establishing the guidelines, and they are looking for feedback from the community as well as potential skydiving businesses.

“If they have feelings, direction changes, nullifications, that’s what we’d like to hear,” Haig said.

Once the draft is finalized, it will go to the City Commission for review. The Aviation Advisory Board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.