Harassment Has Progressed To Helo Damage
The pilots of a large, busy firefighting helicopter currently
based at Arizona's Payson Municipal Airport for the peak
firefighting season have had other fires to put out, in addition to
a slew of grass fires recently.
According to Airport Manager Ted Anderson, there have been
several incidents of pilots not playing well with others. In fact,
it's getting so bad the Forest Service, which operates the Sikorsky
S-61N, is considering relocating it just to keep it and its pilots
There is a specific group of pilots who have been harassing and
interfering with the helo pilots and driving recklessly through the
airport, according to the Payson Roundup.
According to Anderson, there are five or six individuals who pay
a monthly fee to have access to a certain gate at the west end of
the airport. It is intended to be used by private aircraft entering
the airport only, not for ordinary vehicles using it as a shortcut,
This is where the
Sikorsky is most ideally positioned, Anderson said. But, this group
of pilots has used this access to cause problems for the helo
pilots. It has now progressed to actual damage: one of the group
destroyed a fuel hose by driving over it.
Supervisor Tommie Martin said the group is acting in a reckless
and disrespectful manner.
"It boggles my mind that residents of this town would harass
members of a fire crew," she said.
Local police are currently investigating. Payson Police
Commander Don Engler said, as of Wednesday afternoon, no charges
had been filed but he believed there was improvement in the
"I think we're able to get some things resolved," he said. "I
believe (the individuals) were cooperating with the officers who
talked to them."
The Forest Service was considering just moving the Sikorsky to
another airport altogether, possibly to Winslow.
But, making that kind of move would increase the fire crews'
response times to fires in the Payson Ranger District and Payson's
outer communities, Martin said.
"It's an hour response, versus a 10-minute response," she
For now, the Forest Service has moved the helicopter to the
opposite end of the airport until some sort of resolution is
reached, said Robert Ortlund, Payson district fire management
According to Anderson, the helicopter is actually more secure at
the east end of the airport. But, its size does cause some
fixed-wing aircraft to alter normal departure and landing paths.
They have to do a little extra back-taxiing to avoid the big
"Security is a bigger issue than it was before (September 11),"
Ortlund said. "Airport security is no-nonsense now."
Especially since the security issue is one of your own.