Low plane flights cause buzz on Island

Updated March 8, 2018 – Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer reports that after the publication of this story, the pilot, Hans Brown, agreed to comply with FAA regulations requiring him to fly “1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft,” and, at Tokajer’s request, 300 feet seaward of the buoys marking no-vessel zones in the Gulf of Mexico off Anna Maria Island.

A small ultralight aircraft flying up and down the Gulf beaches of Anna Maria Island is attracting attention from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Holmes Beach police, Palma Sola Scenic Highway officials and beachgoers, some of whom duck when he flies overhead.

A plane advertising itself online as a “bucket list” experience, including “several low passes, several water-skims and several splash-n-go’s,” flies over Bradenton Beach at sunset. – Cindy Lane | Sun

The “trike,” which flies “low, slow, up close and personal” according to the Air Adventures website advertised on the aircraft, www.letsfly.info, frequents the Anna Maria Island Gulf beaches at sunset, typically a tranquil time that draws many to the water’s edge.

Some have reported the low – and loud – flights to law enforcement authorities.

FAA

The FAA is investigating reports that the plan is flying too low.

“We are taking a look to determine how this company is operating,” FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac told The Sun, citing regulations on minimum safe altitudes:

  • 91.119, Minimum safe altitudes. Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes: (b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft; (c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
  • 103.9, Hazardous operations. (a) No person may operate any ultralight vehicle in a manner that creates a hazard to other persons or property.
  • 103.15, Operations over congested areas. No person may operate an ultralight vehicle over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons.

Palma Sola Scenic Highway CME

The plane’s website shows photos and videos of the plane taking off and landing on the Palma Sola Causeway, a state road and right of way and a designated scenic highway, with regulations about advertising and commercial activity, said Ingrid McClellan, of the Palma Sola Scenic Highway Corridor Management Entity.

The organization is investigating Air Adventures, better known as “1-833-lets-fly,” and pilot Hans Brown.

“You can’t do a walk-up business. If they are selling online and it’s reserved and paid for online it’s allowed, but they can’t walk up and spend X amount of dollars for a ride,” she said, noting that the Surferbus and BeachHorses operating on the causeway do not violate the regulations.

Scenic Highway officials are drafting a letter expressing concern to the Bradenton Police Department, which has jurisdiction over the causeway, McClellan said.

Holmes Beach Police Department

The plane has landed illegally on the Gulf beach, Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer told Holmes Beach commissioners last week.

While the pilot and plane are both licensed, he said, police will be monitoring his flights and using decibel meters to determine whether he is violating the Holmes Beach noise ordinance.

Tokajer said the pilot told him he plans to pick up passengers at the Kingfish Boat Ramp, instead of at the Palma Sola Causeway or the east side of the Manatee Avenue bridge at the northern kayak launch.

Kingfish Boat Ramp is a Manatee County park leased from the Florida Department of Transportation, and while it is policed by the Holmes Beach Police Department, no specific city ordinances ban picking up passengers there, City Attorney Patricia Petruff told commissioners.

Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach officials have not yet publicly discussed the issue.

– Kristin Swain contributed to this report