“…After a full week of blissfully quiet days and beautiful weather, the tranquility in our neighborhood was destroyed just a few minutes ago. As I write this, the Mile-Hi jump plane is droning and grinding its way to jump altitude. For me, the quiet days serve as an important reminder how things ought to be. So, I hope you will all join us next Tuesday, when the Longmont city council addresses the proposed Mile-Hi lease.”
– Kimberly Gibbs, Chairman and Founder of the group ‘Citizens For Quiet Skies‘, in Boulder County, Colorado.
The airport in Longmont, Colorado [KLMO] is a moderately busy field with a single runway and no control tower. The largest operator, by far, is Mile Hi Skydiving, which uses a small fleet of aircraft to make a lot of money flying people on long and noisy climbs for ‘drops’ that land on the south side of the airport.
The noise impact on neighborhoods is intense – so intense that it actually led to a case heard at the U.S. District Court in Boulder. Last Spring, the court sided with the operator. Sadly, though, this outcome was not that surprising, when you just consider political trends in recent decades. It is impossible to not notice the predisposition of U.S. courts (and agencies, and elected officials) to serve money ahead of people, the environment, or justice.
(4 screen caps from the Mile Hi Skydiving website, showing the $199 price, describing tandem jumps, and noting over 5,000 tandem jumps are done each year.)
The big money-maker in the skydiving business is ‘tandem jumps’, where total beginners are strapped onto a so-called ‘instructor’ and the pair then skydives together under the instructor’s parachute. Actual trained skydivers pay approximately $20 for a flight to drop altitude, but tandem passengers pay $199. The so-called ‘instructors’ are not paid anything huge; in fact, the biggest benefit for the ‘instructor’ is that he or she logs more skydives, toward extended ratings. Clearly, the profits for Mile Hi Skydiving are substantial – easily more than $100 per tandem customer.
And that customer’s status as a student? For nearly all tandem customers it is a ‘one-and-done’: a 6-minute ride after somebody else jumps from the plane, a ride that creates a one-time adrenaline rush. Very few of these riders will invest hundreds more and all the time for a series of actual instruction and jumps to become actual skydivers. They are students in name only, and only for about one hour (plus maybe a couple more hours just waiting in line to get on their flight).
The Current Lease Proposal
(Exhibit A; from page 17 of the 18-page Final Draft lease proposal)
The current lease proposal calls for having Mile Hi pay less than $400 per month to lease nearly 13,000 square feet of improved airport land, including a hangar that is nearly 4,000 square feet in area. That appears to be an incredibly low lease rate for an outfit that dominates the airport (and thus impacts other airport operations), while it also destroys quality of life for hundreds – even thousands – of airport neighbors who can no longer enjoy barbecues in their backyards.
With each flight, this company nets enough profit to more than cover the monthly lease cost. So, why is the lease rate so low? Is the airport authority even covering the annualized cost of the improvements being leased away (the hangar and the ramp apron)?
The lease also includes no provision for the additional airport land area being used to support Mile Hi’s business, such as:
- the airport movement areas where pavement has been modified solely to accommodate Mile Hi’s operations (the large asphalt area at top-center of Exhibit A);
- the land where shade structures are added for processing customers and handling equipment (the two black rectangles, just south of the pavement);
- the other areas routinely used for handling customers (look closely at the aerial view, and note the business-related improvements on land outside the lease area … the orange markings, the smaller white structures);
- the ‘swoop pond’ area; and
- the land where dozens – even hundreds – of customers and employees park their vehicles, as necessary to conduct business.
One has to wonder: on the open market, for a comparable parcel and improvements to be used by a lessee’s customers at a non-aviation business, what would the lease rate be? Only $400 per month?
There is also nothing in the lease to protect neighborhoods and the environment from the repetitive and loud noise patterns known to exist with skydiving operations. FAA serves aviation money, so local residents will get no help from the federal officials. Instead, residents must depend on their city officials to be diligent in handling airport use proposals, to manage leases so as to minimize impacts. The proposal being considered is a total ‘giveaway’, and was previously approved by an aviation-biased airport Board. The proposal fails to serve the whole public. City Council needs to send it back, to reflect the full property being leased, and to add provisions that balance skydiving profits with the quality-of-life needs of area residents.
Click here to view the agenda for the 2/23/2016 council session (Civic Center, at 7:00PM). The lease ordinance is at Item #8a. Citizens are invited to speak before and after.