Ky. Air Controllers, Rocket Club Clashing over Launches

May 18, 2007

A local model rocket club had permission to launch rockets into airspace near Lexington, Ky.’s Blue Grass Airport, but future launches could be in doubt over safety concerns.

Air traffic around the airport had to be rerouted for several hours on Saturday while members of the Bluegrass Rocketry Society launched rockets from a nearby park.

Though the group received permission from the Louisville FAA office to conduct the launch party, Blue Grass air traffic controllers complained to Lexington mayor Jim Newberry that the rockets presented “an unacceptable level of risk” to aircraft.

Duff Ortman, air traffic manager at the Lexington tower, wrote a letter to Newberry saying the rockets – which can reach altitudes of 4,000 feet – could create a collision hazard with aircraft arriving and departing the airport.

The controllers said they should have been consulted by the Louisville FAA office about the permit and been allowed to weigh in on whether the rocket exhibition would “pose a hazard to local aviation.”

Mark Thompson, treasurer of the Bluegrass Rocketry Society, said the air traffic controllers were overreacting because “they’re still jumpy” since the crash of Comair Flight 5191 last August, when 49 people died shortly after takeoff.

“They’re trying to make it more difficult for somebody trying to enjoy their hobby,” said Darryl Hankes, president of the Rocketry Society.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the Louisville office should have checked with the airport before issuing the waiver, which is good for up to one year. Brown added that because Ortman is concerned about the rockets being a collision hazard, they should no longer be allowed. The club’s web site said future launches are planned in July, September and November.

Randy Harris, president of the Lexington local of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the rockets could go damage a plane if the two collided.

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