Residents want aerobatic flights to stop

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At the airport

By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

Though some area residents living near the Dunnellon/Marion County Airport are upset with the aerobatic flying practices of Morrow’s Communication Group, the owner does not plan on going anywhere.

At a recent meeting between the two groups, the accusations were flying as the residents and business owner, Larry Morrow, defended their stance on the matter.

The patrons in attendance were angry about the noise, duration of the flights and safety issues caused by the flights. Some residents contended that the small plane is in the air daily, circling their homes. Another said she was hurt as a result of it.

Marion County Public Works Bureau Chief Larry Thacker led the meeting and said it was held due to the concerns from residents about the operations conducted by Morrow’s business.

Thacker said when he first started looking at the company, his main concern was that it was lawful.

“I always want to be legal whatever it is I do. It may not be the popular thing, but at least I’m going to be legal,” he said.

Thacker said he has done research on the issues raised by residents, including contacting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). And, he said from everything he has learned, the company is in compliance. He added the county sent a letter to the FAA asking them to investigate the procedures of the business.

The FAA wrote a letter back stating they will continue to look into it, but they are not currently acting on any complaints from the residents, he said. In addition, a code enforcement employee from the county has been to the site to see if there was a noise violation caused by aircraft. There wasn’t.

One homeowner said he understood that the company was in compliance with the wavier, but he did not like the waiver. Thacker recommended that he write a letter to the FAA and express his concerns. Once the aircraft is off the ground at the airport, the county no longer has authority, because they do not own the airspace. The FAA does.

In addition, as long as the plane’s maneuvers are done 1,500 feet above the ground and it’s in the one-mile aerobatic box, they are in compliance.

Another resident at the meeting accused Morrow and pilot, Mark Stewart, of not staying within the aerobatic box. Morrow fired back saying the claim was not true.

Resident Earl Otting, said about a month ago the pilot did 14 laps near his home, which is off County Road 484.

He has filed a complaint with the FAA about the incident and heard back from them recently. The FAA asked him if the pilot was staying inside the box.

Otting said in recent weeks that he had been. However, the plane was flying too low on the day it did laps near his home, he said.

Linda Mannings, who is a neighbor of Otting’s, said she was hurt when her horse was spooked due to the noise from the plane. “We’re in danger out here,” Otting said.

To check it out for himself, Morrow said he parked near the Otting’s home to observe, while Stewart flew near the home. He said the horses never moved their heads during the flight.

Otting and his wife, Joanne, disputed the claim made by Morrow.

In addition to homeowners along C.R. 484, a resident from the Rainbow Springs development said she hears the approaches of the aircraft in her neighborhood.

Marion County Commissioner Charlie Stone spoke briefly at the meeting and reiterated that the county has no authority over the airspace. A resident accused the county commission of giving authorization to issue the aerobatic box. Stone said the board was not approached.

Stone said the county is being responsible with the residents concerns, but cannot do anything outside of the legal boundaries. “These gentlemen have rights, as much as you do,” he said, “You don’t particularly like the noise; they may not like your horses.”

In addition, Stone told residents that complaining to him, Thacker or Roy Sieger, airport supervisor, does not do any good. He said it simply “keeps the pot boiling.”

The plane in question, which is owned by Stewart, takes flight two to three times a day for about 20 minutes each time. “That’s about all you can withstand,” he said. Stewart competes in aerobatic flying events. “I’ll be doing these practices through the early part of May,” he said, but will be back in the air near the Dunnellon/Marion County Airport in November. Morrow will fly while Stewart is gone, but not as much.