Parasail Operators Concerned Over Air Show’s Impact

OCEAN CITY — Moving the OC Air Show to mid-August has the potential to impact local parasail operators, but the town and event organizers are willing to work with the local businesses to minimize the impact.

During the public comment period of Monday’s Mayor and Council, local attorney Regan Smith spoke on behalf of roughly a dozen parasail operators in town regarding the OC Air Show and its move from the typical mid-June dates to mid-August because of delays caused by COVID-19. Smith said the parasail operators had been informed not long before Monday night’s meeting they would not be able to fly customers during the four days of the event for as much as five hours each day.

During the OC Air Show, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishes a roughly five-mile no fly zone for private aircraft, banner planes and parasail operators. This year, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds highlight the show, which also includes the F-22 Raptor team, the F-35 Lightning II and the A-10 Thunderbolt II teams.

Smith said the U.S. Coast Guard had informed the parasail operators they would not be able to fly customers in the designated zone for four days from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Smith said it’s not typically a problem when the air show is held in mid-June because the season hasn’t quite ramped up yet.

“We all know the air show is a great event for the town every June,” he said. “Usually in June, it’s not a problem when they can’t fly between noon and 3 p.m. They can work in the mornings and they can work in the afternoon because they aren’t yet flying a lot of people.”

However, closing down parasail operators in mid-August could have serious financial implications for the local businesses, according to Smith.

“With the move to August, the Coast Guard informed them today they will not be allowed to fly for four days from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day,” he said. “For an operation like my brother’s, that’s a $50,000 hit. They were just told today and there are about 10 other operators in the same situation.”

Smith said in the past, the impact on the local businesses has been mitigated with much less down time.

“Typically, the air circle, or the no-fly zone, is designated for the military jet teams and they typically fly for about 20 to 30 minutes during the entire time frame,” he said. “Usually, the air show operators and the parasail operators are able to work around that. They obviously shut down during the critical periods and they move as far away as they can during the other time.”

Smith said he was hoping the town could intercede on behalf of the local businesses to minimize the impact.

“Closing them down from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. is an hour before the show starts and an hour after it ends,” he said. “I’d like to get some direction from the council on how to work through this. It’s really taking away their prime days and these guys have already been hit hard from COVID and not being able to fly for a month and a half of the summer.”

Smith said if the parasail operators could get the air show lineup and schedule ahead of the event, they could schedule customers around the peak times of the show when the high-profile military teams are performing.

“Is there was a way to work through that where they know when the military jet teams are coming through?” he said. “Most of the other acts are right off the beach and it isn’t a problem.”

Special Events Director Frank Miller acknowledged the potential conflicts.

“The parasail operators are affected by the air show,” he said. “It’s primarily when the military demonstration teams are flying. That includes the Thunderbirds this year, but also the other military teams. It’s a pretty strong lineup this year. During those times, the parasails are required to be outside the five-mile air space set by the FAA.”

Miller said event organizers have worked with parasail companies in the past and likely would again this year.

“Outside of those, the parasails can fly in that space,” he said. “When we have the civilian aircraft, they can be inside the air space. I believe in the past there has been a good relationship and that’s going to need to continue this year. As they put the sequence together and we know the specific times for the military teams, we can work with the parasail operators.”

Smith said the parasail operators were willing to work with event organizers on a common ground.

“These guys were alarmed when they were told just today they wouldn’t be allowed to fly for five hours,” he said. “This is their busiest time of the year. If we can work through that and get the schedule, it would be most helpful. They can work around it once they know their windows to operate.”

Council President Lloyd Martin hoped a reasonable accommodation could be found.

“Hopefully, you can work through this,” he said. “It does make sense. We want to work with our partners and our businesses as well.”

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.