USPA recently filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to fight a potentially dangerous Federal Aviation Association decision that could negatively affect skydiving and the aviation community. Three other major aviation associations—The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the National Business Aviation Association and the Helicopter Association International—found the USPA argument so compelling and the implications for airport access so serious that they joined the amicus.
When a dispute between Phoenix Area Skydiving and the Casa Grande Airport in Arizona arose five years ago, it appeared that it was simply a routine airport-access issue. This case began when the skydiving operator, who had a landing area off the airport property, requested office space and a parachute landing zone inside the grounds of the airport. The city (and manager of the airport) refused, thus prompting the skydiving operator to file a formal complaint to the FAA under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 16, asking whether the airport acted in accordance with the terms of its federal grant assurance.
The FAA conducted an in-depth safety analysis and issued an order in 2017 that determined the city violated two grant assurances by unjustly discriminating against Phoenix Area Skydiving and not complying with federal obligations to make the airport available to all users. The city appealed that determination, and again the FAA upheld their decision in a final agency decision (FAD). As part of that FAD, the FAA ordered the city to submit a corrective action plan (CAP) that would allow skydiving operations at the airport.
Unfortunately, after two years the FAA approved a CAP submitted by the city that included acquiring a five-acre plot of land three miles from airport and designating this off-airport site as airport property for the operator to use as a parachute drop zone. This, despite the availability of two on-airport landing areas identified by the FAA safety analysis as appropriate for parachute landings.
When hearing of the FAA’s approval of the CAP, USPA—who assisted our Group Member drop zone with its access struggle over the last five years—utilized the Airport Access Defense Fund to prepare the brief for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The brief shows the court how the FAA’s decision to accept the corrective action plan not only affects the involved parties but could potentially impact other skydiving operators at federally obligated airports, as well as other aviation industries. AOPA, NBAA and HAI all saw this as a concerning issue and supported the USPA amicus. The city has appealed to the court in protest of the FAA’s Part 16 determination, despite the FAA approving its corrective action plan.
USPA and the other associations' position is that a remote landing area parcel does not constitute equal access to the airport's facilities and that the FAA’s acceptance of the CAP could have potentially adverse effects moving forward. USPA will continue to work with aviation groups to fight the recent FAA decision, restore airport access to Phoenix Area Skydiving and ensure fair airport access to skydiving operators and other aviation interests in the future.