Aircraft Landing Ban Moves Ahead

OCEAN CITY — After an unexpected helicopter landing on a downtown church parking lot in July, resort officials this week approved on first reading an ordinance aimed a preventing a repeat.

On July 3, a private helicopter landed on a church parking lot at 17th Street and Philadelphia Avenue, discharged its passengers and took off again. The unexpected landing disrupted traffic in the area on a busy holiday and generally created quite a stir for hundreds of motorists and pedestrians unaccustomed to a helicopter touching down in a densely populated resort area.

Almost immediately, the Mayor and Council directed staff to begin crafting an ordinance prohibiting helicopters and other aircraft from landing within town limits. On Monday, the Mayor and Council approved the finished product on first reading. Council Dennis Dare pointed out while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) holds sway over aircraft operations, local jurisdictions have some authority to dictate where aircraft can be legally landed.

“The FAA controls flights and as long it’s considered an incidental landing, as this one was, it’s fine by them,” he said. “As long as they don’t violate any laws on land, its okay. That’s where local government comes in. That’s what we can control on land.”

The proposed ordinance clearly prohibits landings of most aircraft anywhere on the densely-populated island.

While the proposed ordinance covered landings of helicopters and other aircraft within town limits, it was amended to include launchings as well. Presumably, if a helicopter, for example, landed in Ocean City, the pilot could be cited and fined up to $1,000. The ordinance approved on Monday included the same penalties for launchings, raising questions from at least one councilmember.

“I have a question about the launching violation and fine,” said Councilman Matt James. “If they did land, wouldn’t we want them to launch and go away?”

However, Dare explained the ordinance needed to have the hammer to cover launchings as well with the associated fine to discourage the practice.

“Each landing and launching should be considered as a separate violation with each getting a $1,000 fine,” he said. “If somebody landed a helicopter here, for example, it could be trucked out to the airport to take off again.”

While the ordinance approved on Monday was precipitated by the helicopter landing in the resort in July, language in the bill carefully spells out other types of aircraft that it would cover. The ordinance does include provisions for exceptions such as emergency landings, locations designated by the council by resolution of at a location, date and time authorized by a special permit.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.