Saratoga County

Glider pilots unhappy with new Saratoga County Airport rules

Saratoga County officials on Tuesday adopted temporary rules that place new restrictions on gliders

Saratoga County officials on Tuesday adopted temporary rules that place new restrictions on gliders at the county airport on Geyser Road.

The county Buildings and Grounds Committee adopted interim rules despite vigorous objections from glider club members.

The restrictions set limits on glider flight operations and require the glider clubs to have radio communications available at all times with the airport’s private operator.

“We’ve got to have rules,” said committee member Arthur “Mo” Wright, R-Hadley. “We can’t just have haphazard out there, people doing whatever they want.”

But representatives of the two glider clubs that use the airport say they didn’t have enough input into the rules, which the county has been working on for more than a year.

“A lot of the details here are going to make for a big mess in a month or two,” said Michael McCarron of the Saratoga Soaring Association.

Both the glider users and county officials say their principal concern is safety, especially when the airport becomes busier with private jet traffic in the summer.

“If I have to point out one thing we’re talking about here, it’s coordination, making sure everyone is talking to each other,” said Michael Churchill of McFarland-Johnson, the county’s airport planning consultants.

The interim rules say all activities at the airport, including those of the glider clubs, must be coordinated through North American Flight Services, the airport’s base operator, and users must have radio contact with the base operator. There are also new restrictions on where gliders can be assembled and disassembled.

The past practice of gliders being assembled just off the edge of runways has been banned as unsafe by the Federal Aviation Administration. Now, they will need to be assembled near their hangars and towed to take-off positions.

Committee Chairman Richard Rowland, R-Greenfield, said the interim rules arose from safety concerns brought up a year and a half ago. “There were issues with activities, with personal vehicles going onto runways, with unrestricted access,” he said.

The interim rules were developed in discussions with airport users, the FAA and other interested parties, he said.

The glider enthusiasts, however, remain skeptical that the rules will work as intended and said they had no input on the final revisions. One pilot noted there’s a history of mistrust and miscommunication between glider users and the base operator and said the rules won’t work during busy months. County officials acknowledge there could be more conflicts during months when the airport is busier.

Glider assembly can’t be moved to the airport’s meadows because they contain habitat of the endangered Karner blue butterfly and are protected under easements the county signed with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

DEC officials have said they won’t consider easing those restrictions without seeing a new master plan for the entire 500-acre airport — something the county has in the works, but will involve a lengthy process.

Rowland acknowledged the rules, as “interim” rather than final, can’t be enforced. Enforcing them would require their being adopted as a local law by the county Board of Supervisors.

“There is no enforcement of them. They are not part of the local law,” he said.

As a small “uncontrolled” air field, Saratoga County Airport is not subject to the same extensive level of FAA oversight as a larger “commercial” airport. Rowland said as part of the master plan, permanent and enforceable rules will be developed.

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