Skydiving businesses now allowed to operate at Lawrence’s city-owned airport

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

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

After years of discussion, skydiving businesses will now be able to operate at the city-owned Lawrence Municipal Airport.

At its meeting Tuesday, the City Commission voted unanimously to adopt procedures and minimum standards for parachute operations at the airport, but directed city staff to amend several of the provisions. Commissioner Matthew Herbert said those provisions should be more specific and use Federal Aviation Administration language to ensure the airport’s federal funding is not jeopardized.

“The biggest thing for me is I just want to be very careful with any language that speaks to restricting an aeronautical activity when other aeronautical activities are not restricted in the same capacity,” Herbert said. “Because that by definition is discriminatory and violates the FAA’s intent.”

Because the airport receives federal funding, the city is not allowed to discriminate against approved aeronautical activities at the airport, which includes skydiving. The commission voted 4-0 to adopt the parachuting regulations and directed staff to amend the language on several provisions. Commissioner Jennifer Ananda was absent.

The procedures include requirements related to insurance and release of liability, as well as various operation protocols to ensure skydiving doesn’t interfere with other airport activities. The airport is used by both medical helicopters and private flights, and medical operators have spoken against allowing skydiving.

Aviation Advisory Board member Richard Haig said the policies need to be in place so the city can take care of the airport, the public and any liabilities and responsibilities that come with allowing skydiving.

“It’s important to have some policies in place, so if someone comes in and acts in a reckless manner, the city has recourse to take care of it,” Haig said.

Several skydivers spoke during public comment in favor of allowing the skydiving at the airport, but some of them were concerned that the regulations the city approved were too vague in some areas and too restrictive in others. One of the questions raised was whether skydiving should be allowed at night provided the requirements, such as proper lighting, set forth by the FAA are met.

The requirements include 19 policies and procedures that any parachute operator must abide by, and the commission voted to make amendments to provisions four, five, 11 and 19. The amendments provide more specific guidance about drop zones, specify that skydiving logs can be electronic and adopt FAA regulations regarding night jumps.

In addition to the procedures and policies, fees for skydiving will eventually need to be established. The city will incur costs to accommodate private parachuting activities, including work needed to provide a landing area, insurance costs and revising the airport layout plan, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The memo states that fees established for skydiving will need to offset those facility and personnel costs.