Helicopter landing vexes Wrightsville Beach officials


Wrightsville Beach police again cited a pilot with violating a town ordinance after landing a helicopter in Wrightsville Beach last month, but town officials said they won’t forward the incident to the Federal Aviation Administration after it chose not to issue penalties in recent similar incidents.

Wrightsville Beach police issued a citation for aircraft operations to Jacob Canady, who was piloting a helicopter that landed on a private lot in Wrightsville Beach on Friday, June 30. Canady landed the helicopter at the vacant lot on the east side of the Salisbury Street bridge, across from Wrightsville SUP in the site that formerly housed a Pizza Hut location.

Police surrounded the helicopter, which landed about 8:30 p.m., and issued the citation. The helicopter dropped off a passenger, police said, who was not cited.

However, Wrightsville Beach Police Dan House said he didn’t believe the civil citation would be enforceable and said the town wouldn’t forward the case to the FAA, which had cleared pilots cited by the town in recent similar incidents.

House said that FAA rules can supersede local ordinances, making them difficult to enforce. In the most recent incident, House said that FAA rules allow an aircraft to land on private property, making it unlikely the federal agency would bring penalties against the pilot.

“Our ordinance prohibits hovering and the helicopter wasn’t hovering, it was landing,” House said.

The town has an ordinance preventing aircraft traffic below 500 feet, specifically addressing helicopters that hover or other small aircraft flying too low. However, a pilot who was cited with violating the ordinance last August was never prosecuted after the FAA cleared her of violating aviation law in the incident.

During the Aug. 16, 2016 incident, a pilot with an Oak Island helicopter tour provider flew a marketer over a college party on Wrightsville Beach, dropping flyers onto the crowd. While the marketer faced citations related to littering, the pilot avoided any penalties for the incident.

Wrightsville Beach police issued a citation to the pilot of an ultralight aircraft in January 2017 after the pilot landed it on the beach near Access No. 28. House said that the town had a stronger case against the ultralight pilot since he landed the aircraft on public land.

Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair agreed that the town ordinance may not be specific enough and said that the town may consider revising its aircraft ordnance in the future to make it more effective. The town has hired a consultant to review the town’s telecommunications ordinance to make it compliant with federal regulations and Blair said the town could conduct a similar process to strengthen aircraft regulations.

Email terrylane@luminanews.com

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