Oren Peri has skydived all over the country, but the thought of floating over Long Island's scenic East End is enough to make him want to relocate here from New Paltz, he says. Peri, a carpenter as well as a professional skydiver, was one of several skydivers who testified before the Riverhead Town board Tuesday night in support of a local skydiving school's request for an extended, five-year lease within the industrial core of the former Grumman property at Calverton.
Skydive Long Island, which says it is the only skydiving school in the area, needs to be named a qualified sponsor by the town to secure an extension on their one-year lease. With the long-term lease, the company will seek $700,000 in financing for business development and to buy a larger plane that can carry more skydivers.
"I was limited at Spadaro," said Skydive owner Raymond Maynard, referring to the small airport in East Moriches. "Here I could grow, but there's no way I can get financing unless I have the security of a longer lease." While many supporters at the hearing welcomed the company, some safety concerns were raised. A letter was filed by Peter Wynkoop, a union representative for the National Air Traffic Control Association, who noted in an interview that "two pilots had to take evasive action" from jumpers.
"Calverton is one of the busiest airways," Wynkoop said.
Maynard said one incident was caused by an instructor who had difficulty speaking English and was immediately fired.
"If everyone is in communication, everything can be coordinated," said Maynard.
Maynard also said he believes his operation would actually decrease air traffic in the area because a skydiving symbol over Calverton will now be incorporated in the Federal Aviation Administration's aeronautical sectional chart. He says he also abides by the guidelines established by the U.S.
Parachute Association, a nonprofit safety trade organization.
In 15 years, the company has had one fatality with a skydiver in 1989, which Maynard said was the result of a jumper releasing himself from his parachute before landing. One of the company's planes crashed in 1991, killing the pilot and injuring three jumpers, which Maynard said was due to a faulty engine piston. A parachute association spokesman said he was not aware of any complaints received about the company.
The company has been at Calverton since September, leasing two buildings for close to $30,000 a year and using the 10,000-foot runway.
His company operated for 15 years out of a trailer at Spadaro, which Maynard says was an "inadequate facility" that could not handle larger planes.
His two single-engine planes could only carry up to four jumpers and a pilot.
The turbine engine planes he is looking to lease can carry up to 14 jumpers.
If he was able to buy the larger plane, he said he could quadruple his business to 4,000 jumpers annually. He said he'd also like to eventually buy property at Calverton to build a wind tunnel so he can operate year-round. The tunnel would create a 120-mile-per-hour airflow that would lift "jumpers" straight up, giving them a free falling sensation.
Town Supervisor Robert Kozakiewicz said he didn't see a "downside" to having the company at Calverton, but needs to look into safety concerns raised by some residents.
Councilman Edward Densieski said he wasn't opposed to the business, but said he would like to see businesses such as aviation retroffiters and corporate charter jets lured to Calverton. Jack O'Connor of Grubb & Ellis, the property's exclusive marketer, said he recently had interest from five aviation-related companies interested in coming to Calverton.