After the County of Riverside shutdown their operations at Hemet Ryan Airport (HMT) in Southern California in October 2009, soaring pilots, with help from the Soaring Society of America, AOPA, and California Pilots Association, filed a Part 16 action with the FAA Airports Division asserting that denying their right to access at the publicly owned airport was illegal. In a decision dated Feb. 11, the FAA agreed.
The FAA found many of the county’s arguments “disingenuous” and has ordered the county to create a corrective action plan within 30 days or face the suspension of future grants from the FAA. The FAA generally provides 80% of the funding for airport improvements, with the remaining 20% coming from local authorities.
The county is specifically ordered to 1) provide glider operators access to the airport, 2) negotiate in good faith, 3) utilize the expertise of the FAA, 4) adopt procedures for all airport users, 5) improve communication with airport tenants, and 6) complete Master Plan and necessary ALP updates.
The case has been closely followed nationally as a “test case” for asserting the rights of glider pilots at other public funded airports, according to officials with the California Pilots Association.
The action was brought against the county by the non-profit Orange County Soaring Association (OCSA), Mary Rust, Larry Tuohino, and Chris Mannion. OCSA’s mission is to train new pilots in the art of aviation. After soloing in gliders, many OCSA members have gone on to aviation careers in military and commercial aerospace, association officials note.