An Unusual Midair Collision

Photo source: Tim Telford, via Polk County Sheriff’s Office

On Saturday, March 8, a Cessna was flying touch-and-goes at the South Lakeland Airport [X49]. On his third pass, the 87-year-old Cessna pilot  snagged a parachute. The collision dragged    the parachutist through the air, and caused the Cessna to turn 180-degrees right then nosedive to a hard landing. Both the pilot and the 49-year-old parachutist were taken to the hospital. The parachutist was treated and released, while the pilot was held longer for observation. The accident happened on the U.S. Parachute Association’s ‘Skydiving Safety Day’. USPA reports that in 2013 there were 24 parachute fatalities in the U.S.

A letter to Skydive Oregon (in Molalla)

The letter below was emailed to Skydive Oregon, on the morning of 3/30/13. It seeks to resolve an aviation noise impact associated with Skydive’s commercial operation.  A copy is also being sent to the local newspaper, the Molalla Pioneer.

Date: Saturday, 3/30/2013, ~9:30AM
Sent to: skydive@molalla.net; skydive@skydiveoregon.com
Subject: Can you give us a little advanced warning?

Hello, Skydive Oregon.

What noise may I (and thousands of my rural neighbors) expect today?

I am looking at a beautiful morning sky with a joy for what projects I can work on today, in the forest and in my garden. I am happy to be living here, in Clackamas County, Oregon, a place I proudly call home. Yesterday was the first day this year where I had the pleasure of watching violet-green swallows swooping around the trees and over the pastures. They clearly love to fly, almost as much as I love watching them fly; it is wonderful that they thrive on this piece of land that I am dedicated to preserving.

I love being here, but there is a harsh reality I must confront: the quality of this living experience is substantially diminished by the noise you create, while earning profits flying parachutists (mostly Portlanders) out of the small airport on the west side of Molalla. At this moment, under this glorious spring sunshine, I should be singing “Oh, what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, …”; instead, I restrain my expectations and fear for what I soon will have to hear. For, as has been the case on nearly all sunny days these past two years, the local rural quality of life here will be diminished by the drone of the turboprops you fly.

As I understand it, you have for decades insisted on doing your drops at higher altitudes which conflict with the arrivals going into PDX. Specifically, your insistence on releasing your paid customers at 12,000′ and 13,000′ and even higher means those parachutists are being dropped THROUGH the flightpaths of PDX arrivals crossing Molalla at 10,000′ to 12,000′ (and descending). As a consequence of your insistence, FAA at Portland TRACON negotiated with you years ago, that you must do your climbs to the east of the Molalla River; the aim was safety; to have you climb clear of that arrival corridor, so that you will not conflict with the passenger flights coming in from California, Nevada and Arizona. An unfortunate consequence of that scheme, though, is it has you climbing miles away from your base, impacting rural residents who likely have no idea that the noise they find so disturbing is associated with a private airport west of Molalla.

I also understand that a couple years ago you purchased Cessna 208’s for your operation. You are in aviation, so you know that FedEx typically uses these as ‘boxhaulers’, to feed cargo between small airports and hubs. You also know they produce a loud and penetrating turbo whining sound. When you conduct climbs over this area, we on the ground have to hear the penetrating turbo whine for far too long. On days like today, if business is good at Skydive, life is not so good on the ground, in our rural homes. Hour after hour, most of the day, for roughly half of each hour, we will be subjected to your noise pollution. Your noise is horrible.

Can this problem be fixed? Are there operational changes you could make that might reduce your impact? It seems plausible that you could slow your climb-rate, thus lower the power setting and the resultant engine noise level. Maybe that would fix the problem? Or, you could do shorter trips; conduct your drops under the PDX arrival corridor (maybe all drops at 8,000′ or 9,000′?), which would negate your need to make lengthier and more impactful climbs. Or, as a compromise, you could limit the higher drops to smaller time windows of each day; that way, if we can develop a workable noise management plan and you comply with it, we residents will know the noise impact will be done in another hour or two, and not dread it going on all day long. That might help. Or, you could just quit. For the record, I respect the right of a person to make a living; I hope we all respect that a person also has a right to improve and protect the quality of their home environment.

Is there a way for us to all get together and fix this problem? Yes, but that depends on you agreeing to participate. Do I (or others) expect or insist that you close down? Not me, though I have learned there are a few others who would love to see you closed.

Should we be able to expect you to meet, to voluntarily hear our concerns (just as we are involuntarily subjected to your noise), so that a noise impact management plan might result? Absolutely.

We need to resolve this problem. So, as a starter, can you please advise via a simple email reply: what impact may we expect from your commercial operation today…?

  • how many flights?
  • from what start time to what finish time?
  • at what frequency (how many operations per hour)?
  • climbing to what altitudes (so we can anticipate the duration)?
  • and using what aircraft type(s)?
  • to carry how many parachutists per trip?

I look forward to your reply, and to a chance to work to fix this noise problem.

– Jeff Lewis

See also… (blue dates link to online content)

10/10/2012
A Noise Issue: Molalla Skydive’s parachute planes
POST by aiREFORM.com
4/22/2015
Rocky Mountain Loud: Skydiving Noise Impacts near Longmont, Colorado
POST by aiREFORM.com, showing a similar impact pattern and FAA regulatory failure in a different community.
6/7/2013
Molalla Skydive Airport [OL05]
REFERENCE – maps, data, etc. for the airport and the skydive noise issue.

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

____________________

[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.