VGT pilots thwart ban on experimentals

Pilots in North Las Vegas prove you can fight City Hall, taking pro-active steps to stop a federal ban on experimental aircraft at North Las Vegas Airport (VGT) and participating on a committee that has come up with recommendations that will benefit pilots, the airport and its neighbors.

The attempt to limit experimental aircraft at the airport came after the crash of a Velocity on Aug. 22, 2008. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the homebuilt, which had about five hours on the airframe, was on a flight to test the aircraft’s performance with an engine boost from a non-certified, belt driver supercharger normally used in cars. The Velocity failed to gain altitude above 300 feet and within 30 seconds of departure crashed into a home located in a densely populated area one mile from the airport. Two people in the home and the pilot were killed. Media reports about the crash played up experimental aircraft as inherently dangerous. Critics of the airport called for banning all experimental aircraft and the removal of so-called “high-risk activities,” such as flight training and student solos.

On Oct. 2, 2008, the Clark County Commission directed Randall Walker, director of aviation, to create a resolution asking the Nevada Congressional delegation to introduce federal legislation that would state what aeronautical activity may be conducted at each airport within the Clark County Airport System. The resolution passed unanimously on Dec. 2, 2008.

Sen. Steven Horsford (D), Nevada State Majority Leader, introduced a State Resolution urging Congress to authorize the Clark County Department of Aviation to ban all experimental homebuilt aircraft from the North Las Vegas Airport. Senate Joint Resolution-#803 was scheduled for its first reading Feb. 9, 2009.

Airport supporters rallied to prevent the measure from moving forward by engaging in an educational campaign. Among the groups working on the campaign were the Clark County Aviation Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association.

“Through the combined efforts of the members of both the CCAA, AOPA and with the EAA calling for an e-mail alert, Senator Horsford decided to delay the resolution’s introduction before the Senate Energy, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” said pilot Dave Edwards, who helped organize the defense campaign. “For those who feel, as I once did, that your letters and e-mails don’t count, you might want to re-evaluate your position. The sheer volume of correspondence, I believe, caused Senator Horsford to re-evaluate his position, at least temporarily.

“Just when we thought Resolution #803 was going to die a natural death, Senator Horsford re-introduced it four days before the session cut-off date,” he continued.

AOPA sent Greg Pecoraro to Carson City the next day, he noted. “Through his efforts over a three-day span, Resolution #803 was substantially changed from ‘banning experimental aircraft’ to establishing a committee in order to determine what steps could be taken to improve the flight safety standards at the North Las Vegas Airport, specifically regarding experimental aircraft,” he said.

Resolution #803 became effective May 22 as Senate Joint Resolution #3.

While pleased at the changes to the resolution, pilots were concerned about who would serve on the committee.

“Establishing any committee to resolve a complex problem can be a disaster in the making,” Edwards said. “Of special concern was the resolution’s desire for the Department of Aviation to take the lead. Another concern was whether the FAA would sign on as a participant or even as an observer in the proceedings. As it turned out, these concerns were unfounded and much of the credit belongs to Cecil Johnson, assistant director-general aviation for the Clark County Department of Aviation, for putting together a committee that represented all the various factions in our aviation community. Throughout the approximately four month drafting process, he kept the committee focused on the final objective and, at the same time, maintained a sense of flexibility needed to allow all members of the committee to voice their opinions.”

The 35-page final report, “North Las Vegas Airport SJR#3 Flight Safety Review and Recommendations,” was drafted by the Department of Aviation and submitted to the Nevada state legislature Nov. 1. The recommendations outline greater safety training for pilots and education for both pilots and the non-flying public. The recommendations also call for laws to protect the airport from further encroachment.

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