Citizens for Quiet Skies et al v. Mile-Hi Skydiving Center

“Your home should be a place of Peace and Quiet…
…but God help you if you live near
a skydiving operation!”

Such might have been mumbled by a homeowner or an old-fashioned reporter, at the conclusion of the case, Citizens for Quiet Skies et al v. Mile-Hi Skydiving Center, heard in the U.S. District Court, in Boulder, Colorado.

The case was a bench trial before Judge Judith LaBuda, who heard five days of testimony, April 13-17, 2015. Judge LaBuda conducted a site visit on May 2nd, to experience the noise impact (while defendant Mile-Hi kept their flights far away … but only for a few hours!) and closing arguments were presented on May 6th. Both parties submitted Proposed Findings of Fact on May 15th. Judge LaBuda issued her decision on May 21st, siding with Mile-Hi Skydiving while articulating a heavy deference to FAA’s regulatory authority.

The principle spokespeople for the two sides were Kimberly Gibbs and Frank Casares. Both speak in this video, posted at TimesCall, one of the local papers that has been following this issue.

Ms. Gibbs lives 6-miles south of the Longmont airport. Like her neighbors, she pays taxes on the home in her neighborhood. She works. She comes home to relax and recover for her next workday. She sometimes invites friends over to enjoy each others’ company, to have conversations and a nice meal on a pleasant afternoon. She lives in a part of the world blessed with fine weather for outside living, where a backyard barbeque is a treat. All of these activities are possible when normal backyard noise conditions exist. These activities are destroyed by persistent noise.

20150629scp.. K.Gibbs in TimesCall video

(click on image to view video at start of Ms. Gibbs’ comments)

Mr. Casares is an aviation business owner. He makes money by carrying as many people as possible to an altitude of 17,999 feet (the highest FAA will allow), so they can drop out of an airplane and parachute back to the airport west of Longmont. The faster his airplanes climb, the more profit he makes; so, the aircraft types are selected, and propellers and fuel-flow rates are also selected, to maximize rate of climb. A consequence of these settings (prop RPM, prop pitch, etc.) is that his aircraft make a much higher level of irritant noise than do other small aircraft. So, to keep the airport happy, he simply has his pilots fly a few miles away from Longmont. This ensures that the local airport neighbors do not have to endure a droning climb noise all day long on his most profitable business days. And, as a benefit, the vast majority of people impacted, say 5- to 8- miles away, have no idea that the horrific droning airplane noise is part of a skydive operation, making all that noise heard by thousands of residents, sometimes to serve just 2- or 4- skydivers.

20150629scp.. F.Casares in TimesCall video

(click on image to view video at start of Mr. Casares’ comments)

So, the crux of the problem at Longmont is this: because Mr. Casares’ pilots go miles away from their drop zone to do their long and noisy climbs, other – and more distant – airport neighbors bear the brunt of the noise impact. FAA is granted wide deference in matters that relate to aviation. So, when a case about aviation noise nuisance goes to trial in a U.S. District Court, it is not unusual for the Judge to defer to FAA. But, what the Judge is not factoring in is how deeply FAA serves aviation money, and how the record shows, FAA would really prefer to not waste its time balancing the profit ambitions of aviation businesses to preserve the residential expectation of ‘Peace and Quiet’.

This is what is called a ‘taking’. Mr Casares’ planes fly for his profit, and when FAA lends cover to Mr. Casares, Ms. Gibbs’ home becomes not a place of ‘Peace and Quiet’, but a place to leave on days when skydiving happens. In effect, Mr. Casares, with a little help from FAA, has ‘taken away’ the rights of Ms. Gibbs and her neighbors to enjoy the homes and the liberties we like to think are protected in this nation.

See also… (blue dates link to online content)

With ears to the sky, judge visits 2 homes in Longmont airplane-noise lawsuit
TimesCall article by Karen Antonacci. Includes webtrak screen captures indicating that, during the site visits by Judge LaBuda, Mile Hi kept their flights miles away, operating in distant parts of the climb box.
Plaintiff’s Proposed Findings of Fact
Defendant’s Proposed Findings of Fact
Decision by Judge LaBuda, Gibbs et al v. Mile-Hi Skydiving (2013CV031563)
PDFs of related documents are attached at pages 2 thru 5.