Fans of ultralight planes face catch-22 situation

Staff Writer, with CNA

Tue, May 10, 2011 - Page 2

Fans of ultralight airplanes said on Sunday they were caught in a catch-22 when trying to participate in trials that will allow Hengchun Airport in Pingtung County to be approved for ultralight planes.

The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said in the middle of last month that it planned to allow ultralight airplanes to use the airport to increase the facility’s utilization rate and that it intended to begin trial flights by the end of this month.

However, the agency said that it would not allow small aircraft to land at the airport to take part in the test flights because the airport has not yet been approved to handle them.

Instead, the CAA instructed ultralight enthusiasts to transport their planes to the terminal by land, which the Sport Aviation Association said on Sunday would be highly impractical.

The association said a typical ultralight’s wings span more than 10m, meaning that moving the aircraft by land would require owners to apply for road closures along the route.

The association said the aircraft could also be dismantled and then rebuilt at the airport to avoid applying to have roads closed, but the planes’ safety would then be an issue because they would all have to be recertified.

However, the CAA said that because the terminal was not yet an approved flying zone for ultralight planes, it was not possible for pilots to fly their ultralights directly to the airport.

Hengchun Airport has been targeted to handle the small aircraft because it currently handles only three flights to and from Taipei per week, one of the lowest utilization rates of any airports in Taiwan.

The government has stepped up efforts to allow more terminals to handle the aircraft in view of the sport’s growing popularity and one terminal in the Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area has already received approval.

Last year, the government approved the country’s first aviation route for ultralight aircraft from Dapeng Bay (大鵬灣) along the Pingtung County coast to mountainous Saijia (賽嘉).