Saratoga County

Saratoga County board sets ‘interim’ rules for airport

Saratoga County supervisors have approved new “interim” rules for the county airport that place rest

Saratoga County supervisors have approved new “interim” rules for the county airport that place restrictions on the operation of gliders.

The rules, which members of the two glider clubs that use the airport have objected to, were approved 17-3 at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors in Ballston Spa. The three supervisors who objected said they were concerned the new rules, while labeled as “interim,” have no expiration date.

Milton town Supervisor Dan Lewza, who voted against the rules, said there should be a “sunset date,” to push the county to develop new permanent rules, “so we can develop real safety regulations for those who use the airport.”

Saratoga Springs supervisors Matthew Veitch and Joanne Yepsen also voted against adopting the rules.

County Buildings and Grounds Committee Chairman Richard Rowland, R-Greenfield, said the rules must be kept as interim until the Federal Aviation Administration finishes reviewing them.

“These rules are under review by the FAA for further editing,” he said. “What the committee felt is that we should get some rules in place and see how it shakes out.”

The new rules set restrictions on glider flight operations, and come after the FAA last November prohibited the longtime practice of gliders staging just off the edge of active runways.

The new rules say glider ground operations must not interfere with the operation of other aircraft, and assembly of the gliders must occur only in designated areas. The rules also require the glider clubs to have radio communications at all times with the airport’s private operator, North American Flight Services. They must inform North American of their plans and activities.

North American representatives have said some private and corporate pilots — including some jet pilots who bring wealthy horse fans to Saratoga Race Course each summer — avoid the airport because of concerns about its glider activity.

Representatives of the two glider clubs, Adirondack Soaring and Saratoga Soaring, have said they didn’t have enough input into the rules, which the county has been developing for nearly two years.

“Although it started out with good intentions, the result of the process has made matters worse,” said Paul Safran of Saratoga Springs, who described himself as one of the most active private pilots at the airport. “They are doing nothing to alleviate the antagonism between various users at the airport.”

The airport, a general aviation facility with no FAA-supervised control tower, is busiest for both glider and private jet traffic in the summer. There is no air traffic controller; individual pilots announce their intentions on a common radio frequency and rely on other pilots to not get in their way.

The interim rules say all activities at the airport, including those of the glider clubs, must be coordinated through North American Flight Services.

Because of the FAA ban on assembling gliders along runways, they will need to be assembled near their hangars and towed to take-off positions.

The glider clubs can’t use the grassy open areas farther out from the runways because they are managed habitat for the Karner blue butterfly, an endangered species.

The interim rules were developed by an engineering consultant, McFarland-Johnson of Saratoga Springs, from discussions with airport users, the FAA and other parties, Rowland said.

He said the county is starting work on a new airport master plan that includes developing permanent rules.

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