Editor’s note: This article first appeared on AVweb.com.
Last week, the Holly Hill (South Carolina) Town Council voted to ban any aircraft weighing less than 600 pounds at city-owned Holly Hill Airport (5J5), which has a 3,900-foot turf runway.
According to the council, the decision was made “to protect the health and welfare of people at the airport” in light of two accidents that occurred in the past 18 months. One of those accidents, in February 2022, involved a Flightstar II light sport aircraft.
According to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) website, an “ultralight” aircraft has a maximum empty weight of 254 pounds, and a light sport aircraft has a maximum empty weight of 1,320 pounds.
In past meetings, the town’s mayor, Billy Chavis, has expressed his concern that any crash carries the risk of legal liability for the town. “We don’t have anybody that’s going to go out there and babysit you guys, and if you guys can’t police yourselves … the easiest way for us to do business is to ban certain types of aircraft—the same type of aircraft that have crashed,” Chavis said.
However, the mayor’s comments drew backlash from local pilots who argued that neither crash involved ultralight aircraft but rather light sport aircraft. Pilots also pointed to the long-standing safety record on the field—noting that only four crashes had occurred in 60 years prior to the two recent incidents.
According to a local news station, the president of the local EAA chapter, David Chandler, said the ban means he can no longer operate his aircraft on the field. “The issues and the accidents that happen with these light aircraft, they’re not the airplane’s fault,” said Chandler. “The airplane is not the issue. They’re not breaking up; they’re not falling apart. It’s the pilot who’s making a poor decision to go fly it outside of its limitations.”
Under the new restrictions, flying an unpermitted aircraft at Holly Hill Airport would result in a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment.
In a statement to AVweb, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association called the recent ban a “disappointment,” adding that the organization has been made aware of some incompatible land uses planned around the airport.
“The local leaders seemingly haven’t been able to recognize the value of having a community airport and improve upon it; instead, they appear to be slowly chipping away at the airport with restrictions such as the most recent one regarding ultralights,” said AOPA Southern Regional manager Stacey Heaton. “Unfortunately, without a local visionary leader for the airport, there is nothing to compel the town to look toward a better future for aviation in their community. If the airport were federally-grant-obligated, a ban such as this would have needed to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and that is a rare occurrence.”