FAA red-lights drag racing at county airport

Thursday, June 24, 2021
Carroll County Airport Commissioner Morris Pate (left) works with Logan Hofstetler (left), 12, and Connor Hofstetler, 9, as they try out the airport’s new flight simulator during the airport’s monthly fly-in on Saturday, June 19. Pate said the simulator, which is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, is an important tool both for pilot training and to spark interest in aviation among the general public.

Despite a certain level of excitement among county residents, there will be no drag-racing at the Carroll County Airport.

After being contacted by some interested parties requesting approval to use the airport as a drag racing venue, the county’s airport commission reached out to the Federal Aviation Administration for guidance and received a clear answer — twice.

Airport manager Michael Pfeifer on Friday shared those responses during the commission’s regular meeting.

“The [district office] will not support racing on the primary runway,” replied FAA rep Katie Fields-Pack. “Per compliance regulations, the airport must remain open for aviation activities.”

Area FAA director Glenn Boles had a similar response, saying, “I would not be in support of FAA approving any commercial racing activity.”

The publicly owned Carroll County Airport is designated as a general aviation facility that covers an area of 51 acres and features one runway that services, on average, 58 aircraft per day.

Pfeifer said the response from the FAA sends a clear message despite public interest.

“We’ve got to go by what the FAA says, since they provide our grant money,” he said. “A lot of people heard about [the request] and they put it out on their Facebook pages and it got out in the world and people started thinking it was a done deal.”

Commissioner Morris Pate said the FAA’s decision is likely the final word, backed as it is by the administration’s investment in the airport.

“It didn’t float,” Pate said. “We just can’t do it because it interferes with general aviation. In our contracts and grants through the FAA, we guarantee them that nothing will get in the way of general aviation without checking with them first. Usually they’ll say no, because they gave money to put a new top on your runway, give the money to steal your runway, to put lights up and down both sides of the runway.”

On a more positive note, Pate said the airport’s new flight simulator is a big hit.

First approved by the commission in April, the tabletop simulator, manufactured by Redbird Flight Simulations Inc. of Austin, Texas, the FAA-certified simulator has been in use since its delivery two months ago, including during the airport’s monthly fly-in on Saturday.

Pate spent a good portion of his time at the event introducing a sizable group of young people to the simulator, serving as a de facto flight instructor to give them a taste of flying.

“That’s how you get kids started — how you get anybody started,” Pate said. “You get them involved in the project and it’s something they enjoy. I don’t know how many of them do video games, but it kind of mixes in the video game genre with learning how to fly.”

Pate stressed that the simulator, which cost the commission $11,683 — part of which was funded through a targeted donation — is more than an expensive toy. With a licensed flight instructor on hand, it becomes an FAA-certified training tool that will allow pilots to work on everything from general skills to earning an instrument rating.

Although he doesn’t yet have a pilot’s license, Pate said he began familiarizing himself with the simulator almost immediately after it arrived and has logged seven official training hours already.

“I’ve never flown a plane until the other day,” Pate said. “I was with the flight instructor when I did my introductory flight and everything I learned off that simulator, I put to use in that introductory flight.”

In addition to all the hardware — which includes three screens providing a horizon view, the simulator comes with a subscription package that will provide real-world global information about airports, runways, en route and terminal waypoints, VHF navigational aids, airways, instrument approaches, standard instrument departures, standard terminal arrival routes and airspace frequencies.

Time on the simulator may be booked for a fee of $25 per hour, and Pate said the airport typically has flight instructors onsite a couple of times a week. More information may be obtained by contacting the airport at 870-423-8393.

In other business, the commission voted to rehire Bill Gates to perform all airport mowing duties and pay his insurance premium for six months.

The commission also received a report on the east electric gate installation, which was completed June 15. Entry codes for both gates will be changed after the placement of new signs directed at restricting privately owned vehicles from crossing the runway threshold.

The new signs — four in number — will be 8x12 inches and made of aluminum with diamond grade reflective type and will cost $171.

The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for noon Friday, July 16, at the airport.

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