CASA GRANDE — Discussion of the city of Casa Grande’s ongoing battle with a local skydiving company and the Federal Aviation Administration was put on hold Monday during the City Council’s regular meeting.
The item, which appeared on the meeting agenda that was posted on July 3, said the council would meet in executive session to discuss and receive consultation regarding the FAA’s order in relation to skydiving at Casa Grande Municipal Airport, and a proposed agreement with Phoenix Area Skydiving.
However, City Manager Larry Rains pulled the item from the agenda and said it would be rescheduled for a future meeting.
Rains did not disclose at the meeting the reason for the item’s removal, although a skydiving instructor died Friday during a tandem jump that was made out of Phoenix Skydive Center, based at the airport.
Phil Burdick, public information officer for the city, said on Tuesday the instructor’s death was the reason why Rains pulled it from the agenda.
FAA officials are investigating the incident.
According to Ian Gregor, the communications manager for the FAA Pacific Division based in El Segundo, California, a male instructor died during a tandem jump about noon Friday. A female student who was on the tandem jump with him was hospitalized. The extent of her injuries and her condition have not been released.
An FAA safety inspector was sent to the accident site on the Gila River Indian Community Friday afternoon.
A friend of the Mesa woman who survived the jump told FOX 10 the parachute deployed while they were inside the plane, and the pair fell several thousand feet. The student was badly hurt but was able to walk to the Sacaton Rest Area on Interstate 10 to find help.
The woman reportedly told family and friends that her skydiving instructor was new to the company, and it was his first jump in the United States, the television station reported.
The identities of the instructor and the student haven’t been released.
The city has been engaged in a lengthily battle between Phoenix Area Skydiving and the FAA over a potential parachute drop zone at the airport.
According to city documents, the city has passionately opposed the drop zone due to a number of safety concerns. Those concerns were shared by Lindsay Goss of Goss Hawk Unlimited, a business that operates at the airport.
Goss shared her concerns with council members during the call to the public portion of the meeting.
“In the past I said it wasn’t a matter if someone would die, it was a matter of when,” Goss told council members, who could not discuss the matter because it was not an agendized item for public discussion. “Unfortunately it has happened. Now it will be only a matter of when it will happen again and how many will die.”
Goss added that she is not against skydiving and added that she jumped herself in 2004. However, she said she just doesn’t want it going on in her backyard and doesn’t want the heartache of seeing someone dying.
“I want to look out at our property with my daughter and see wonder and amazement of planes flying, and not sadness and anguish of lives lost and memories of bodies hitting the ground or another airplane,” Goss said. “If you allow a drop zone to be placed on the airport, there will be an accident out there. If I’m in the vicinity, it will be my duty as a human being to help someone in need. I do not want to be a part of that but I cannot turn my back on it.
“I do not want to be haunted by someone dying on my property or in my backyard.”
According to the city, the airport had 119,680 aircraft operations for the year ending April 29, 2014, and the city also leases hangars for personal aircraft.
In January 2016, Phoenix Area Skydiving filed a complaint with the FAA saying the airport could accommodate an on-airport parachute drop zone.
However, the city contends the drop zone could impact the efficiency of the operations and traffic flows and potentially could have an impact on the business model of the airport.
In December 2017, the FAA ruled in favor of Phoenix Area Skydiving, saying the city has unjustly discriminated against the company and other aeronautical users intending to use the proposed parachute drop zone. The FAA also found that denying Phoenix Area Skydiving the commercial use of the terminal for customer queuing and loading created an exclusive right in violation of the FAA’s grant assurances.
The city appealed the FAA’s ruling and stated in documents the findings were not supported by the evidence contained in the record and that the conclusions are not in accordance with law, precedent or policy.
The FAA later upheld the original ruling in November, leaving the city with four options. The council later voted to file an appeal with the courts while at the same time completing and submitting a corrective action plan to the FAA and continuing work toward a solution with Phoenix Area Skydiving.
According to the city, the planning and development of the airport has been financed in part by the FAA under the Airport Improvement Program. The FAA has provided $4.7 million in grant funds for airport improvements, which involves complying with federal rules.