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FAA ruling grounds Bay Area Skydiving

By wlieon - Read 2909 times

BYRON -- With warm Indian summer weather still lingering, the Byron Airport would have been busy this weekend with people eager to jump out of airplanes -- with parachutes, of course. But the tiny airport and its biggest business, Bay Area Skydiving, has been quiet since Tuesday. No planes have arrived or departed.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday placed a flight ban at all airports within 10 nautical miles, or about 11.5 miles, of several nuclear facilities in the United States. Byron is near the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

"It's dead out there. Obviously nothing is happening," said David Mendez, manager of county airports. The ban does not extend to police, fire and other emergency crews who might need to land at the airport, Mendez said.

The ban ends at midnight Wednesday.

The tiny Tracy Municipal Airport is also feeling the pinch, particularly at the Tracy Flight Center. It has been unable to run since the ban began. Steve Dietrich, the flight center's office manager, said the ban has cost the school money.

Mike Tjaarda, owner of Bay Area Skydiving, estimated he's lost between $15,000 and $20,000, and turned away at least 40 first-time jumpers since Tuesday.

"We're continually turning down business," Tjaarda said. "Some of these people are going elsewhere, which is an unfortunate thing for us, and it's bad for the county, too, because they're not spending their money here."

Though the ban has been tough for Tjaarda, he said it was a small price to pay to own his own business and to be a part of the nation's fight against terrorism.

"If my country needs me to do anything, that's fine. We're Americans first. If that means I have to find another job, I will. We're Americans first. It's not all about making money," Tjaarda said.

East County commuters who store their planes at Byron Airport, and who get to work by air, have been forced to use alternatives.

Discovery Bay pilot Rick Mann said the ban has forced him to drive to his Hayward business and postpone business trips to Fresno. He also had to forego a flight on Halloween to Marysville, where he planned to take his daughter trick-or-treating.

"The big thing is not being able to get back and forth to work. The plane is actually stranded there. We can't move it," Mann said.

Randy Howell, who owns eight Russian MiG-17 jets and two Boeing L-39 fighter jets, said the ban has not affected his business. He stages air shows around the country which are mostly held February through October.



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