Skydive Sacramento seeks FAA help to use Lincoln airfield

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Oct. 6--A Placer County sky-diving company is asking the federal government to intervene in a dispute with the city of Lincoln over use of its airfield.

Operators of Skydive Sacramento want to land sky divers on vacant Lincoln Regional Airport property, but they contend that anti-sky-diving city officials are blocking them.

"Treat us like you do every other aviation activity," said Pat Garcia, the company's owner.

A year ago, Garcia started landing clients on private property next to the airport.

City officials say they're willing to allow Garcia's sky divers to land on airport property, once his company agrees to the terms of a city lease.

"We did try to negotiate a lease with the company," said Jill Thompson, a spokeswoman for the city.

After months of back-and-forth o and an attempt to solve the dispute with an informal complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration o Skydive Sacramento filed a formal claim last month with the FAA.

FAA rules bar airports that take federal money, like the Lincoln airport, from discriminating against legitimate aviation activities.

It's not uncommon for airports to need some educating on the sport of sky diving, but it's uncommon for a disagreement to rise to the level of a formal complaint, said Randy Ottinger, director of government relations for the United States Parachute Association.

Ottinger said Garcia has tried to iron things out with Lincoln; he's even obtained favorable reviews from the FAA. But there still is no agreement with the city.

"It just doesn't seem to me that they have gotten into the spirit of cooperation in trying to accommodate Mr. Garcia's operation," Ottinger said.

Two critical elements of the dispute center around what property Garcia could lease as a landing zone, and the insurance requirements.

Garcia said he wants to save time and money by having a parachute drop zone on city airport property, close to a new training and parachute-repacking center he hopes to build just west of the airstrip.

His company currently leases a privately owned hangar on the east side, with access to the runway. Parachutists land in an adjacent field and then must be picked up in a company van and driven around the airstrip to the hangar.

Garcia said he asked to relocate west of the landing strip. Since his proposal was rejected, the airport has begun allowing a construction company doing Highway 65 road work to set up a temporary office on the site.

"Why would they keep us from operating as successfully as we can?" Garcia asked.

In its response to the FAA, the city said it is willing to give Garcia a drop zone west of the runway, but since all of the permanent airport buildings are on the east side o along with all the sewage and water connections o the company would have to keep its hangar operations east of the runway.

The city also said Garcia must have $1 million in liability coverage, and cover the city's additional insurance costs.

While he could find insurance to cover slip-and-falls around the hangar, no insurance company will cover sky divers from the time they step on the plane until they land, the FAA's Ottinger said.

"It has not been available to anyone in the country since the 1980s," Ottinger said.

He said waivers signed by sky divers have been effective in protecting operators. No municipality has been held liable for a sky-diving accident, Ottinger said. As of press time Monday, The Bee was unable to independently verify Ottinger's claim.

The city's insurance policy doesn't cover sky diving, said spokeswoman Thompson, and if or when the city were to allow sky diving, it would need additional coverage. The city wants to pass on those costs to Garcia, in addition to finding the liability coverage.

"You can't insure the act of sky diving," said Ray Ferrell, president of SkyDance SkyDiving, based at the Yolo County Airport.

Ferrell says the same state law that protects municipalities from lawsuits by injured skateboarders shields them from claims by people engaged in other hazardous activities, such as sky diving.

In the past six months, three sky divers have died in local parachute accidents. In June, an experienced sky diver was killed and another seriously injured at the Yolo County Airport, northwest of Davis. Last month, two sky divers died after their parachutes became entangled over the Lodi airport.

Garcia said his operation is safe and has the FAA backing to prove it. He said there's been nothing worse than a twisted ankle after more than 2,000 landings at the off- airport site.

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Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269.

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