Riverside County, Calif., violated its grant agreements when it forced gliders out of Hemet-Ryan Airport, the FAA ruled Feb. 11. The agency gave the county 30 days to submit a plan for welcoming sailplanes back onto the field.
The airport sponsor, the Riverside County Economic Development Agency, announced in 2009 that it would close the glider runway at Hemet-Ryan and prohibit nonmotorized glider departures from Runway 5/23. The Orange County Soaring Association (OCSA) filed a formal complaint with the FAA asking it to hold the county to the agreements it made when it accepted federal grant money; the FAA found the denial of access unreasonable and ordered the county to provide glider operators access to the airport.
"The FAA has acknowledged that the sponsor at a federally obligated airport simply cannot decide on their own that one type of aeronautical service can be denied access to the airport," said AOPA Vice President of Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn. AOPA offered support and guidance to the OCSA and also wrote to the FAA on glider pilots’ behalf.
Gliders had had a presence at Hemet-Ryan for 50 years before the county painted yellow Xs on Runway 4/22 and forced sailplanes out. AOPA, the Soaring Society of America, and the California Pilots Association supported the OCSA’s efforts to regain access.
The FAA found that denying gliders access violated the airport’s grant assurances, and that the closure of the runway was not depicted on the FAA-approved airport layout plan. It ordered Riverside County to grant gliders access to the airport, negotiate in good faith with glider-related entities, use the expertise of FAA staff to develop operating procedures for all airport users, enforce those procedures, improve communication with airport tenants, and complete the draft airport master plan. Failure to submit an acceptable plan within 30 days could lead to suspension of future federal grants, the FAA said. The county has 30 days to appeal the ruling.