A Noise Issue: Molalla Skydive’s parachute planes

In this part of Oregon, we have so much rain and dreary gray from October through June, that we come to treasure – even need – the dry sunny months of summer. That is, until the noise starts.

This year, for me, it started in June. I attended a Relay for Life cancer fundraiser at the Molalla H.S. track. Both days, I was hearing an airplane climbing circles over the south part of town. It sounded repetitive, not just a series of planes flying through. Then, I saw parachutes (the airport was about two miles to the west of the Relay site) and thus started to recognize the true cause of the noise: a parachute jump-plane.

Summer started in earnest a few weeks after the Relay, and I was hearing the same noise six miles away, at my place in the country. It did not make sense that they should be climbing so far from their airport, so I started to investigate. I sent a FOIA request to FAA and, in a couple months, received records showing jump fatalities at the airport,[1] and correspondence with the FAA. I was already aware that the airport was badly located, almost directly under the arrival corridor for commercial flights from California to PDX. Well, the correspondence showed that this problem was ‘fixed’ by getting the parachute jump-planes to do the bulk of their climb east of the Molalla River, which put them six miles from their homebase, and over the homes in my rural neighborhood.

This is a parachute jump operation called Skydive Oregon, based at a private strip a mile west of Molalla. The runway is relatively short and sloped, so the flights take off to the north. It appears that they have two modes of operation. On clear days or when the clouds are very high, they climb to 13,000′ or even 18,000′, with the bulk of the noise happening east of the Molalla River. But, if cloud layers force the drop to be lower (say, 8,000′ to 10,000′), then they do their climb close to the airport, impacting rural neighbors in the area south of Molalla. The planes are very loud, such that you hear them and they interfere with conversation, but you look and look, then finally see a tiny plane way up there, two miles or higher.

How do we fix this?[2] I found the Skydive business online and sent an email. Suggested we need to get together and discuss how to quiet down their operation.[3] No reply, so I forwarded the same email and a short note a few days later. This time they reply, only to ask me for my address. I did not provide a street address but said I live very near the Salo and Windy City street intersection. So, he had my full name and a nearby cross-street. A couple days later, I get a lengthy email reply telling me my address and noting I bought this place in 2003. Huh? I emailed a reply and asked for his name; the terse response to that request was, “we are a business, not a person.” I can sure see why people like to remain anonymous when dealing with aviation interests.

And what’s next? Well, the Fall rains are setting in this week and the noise problem should abate until next Spring. But, we still need to have a meeting with Mr. Skydive Oregon. Hopefully, before next summer, we will have a few other residents from around Molalla, ready to speak up so we can all have a quieter summer next year.

See the new webpage for the Skydive Airport: Molalla, OR (OL05)

Jeff Lewis

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[1] March 1998 (ACN: 395444); July 1998 (ACN: 408507); August 2010 (Molalla Pioneer article(OregonLive article)
[2] Solutions likely will include reducing hours, reducing days, limiting the number of climbs impacting any one area in a day, reducing climb-rates, etc.
[3] I asked about his climb rate, prop design, prop pitch and engine RPM’s, suggesting maybe they could be adjusted to have less impact.