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Mon, Oct 09, 2023

Could The Holly Hill SC Aircraft Ban Get Any Stranger?

Mayor Is Reported To Have Threatened Hangar Tenants And Pilots

News, Information, Analysis, and Opinion by ANN CEO/Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell

Several days ago, we reported on the bizarre ban of a narrowly defined type of aircraft that was occurring to a little airport in Holly Hill, South Carolina.

Over the course of a year and half, two licensed aircraft were involved in accidents that resulted in no fatalities and minimal property damage. One wound up in a tree, while one wound up hitting a hanger… And that damage was reportedly quickly repaired. Both pilots apparently got in over their heads, flying light sport aircraft with which they weren't totally familiar, and received injuries.

In the 60 plus years of the airport’s existence there have been, reportedly, a total of 6 accidents.

In the category of ‘truth can be stranger than fiction’, the Mayor of Holly Hill, South Carolina, who apparently rules the town with an iron first, or thinks he does, cobbled together an initial ordinance that banned ultralights… First, using the Part 103 definition that we in aviation know fairly well--but had NO relation to the aforementioned accidents. There is actual documentation of this initial ordnance, and we have received copies of it. When someone corrected the Mayor's ignorance and error in a town council meeting that we have viewed on Facebook, the Mayor and the Council rewrote the ordinance to ban all aircraft below 600 pounds despite the fact that the aforementioned accidents had nothing to do with the aircraft, but to do with the unfortunate operation of both… and most important… they were ACCIDENTS.

We outlined much of this in the story we did late last month, and after leaving numerous messages for Mayor Billy Chavis (pictured), we were surprised to eventually get a return call. While the call started out affable and polite enough, it was very clear that Mayor Chavis knew little about aviation and didn't care to improve on that.

The conversation went from polite to bizarre… With the Mayor indicating that since TWO accidents occurred, and since he felt that such accidents presented the potential for harm to his citizenry, that he could ban aircraft he felt representative of those who were involved in the accidents -- even though the type of aircraft really had nothing to do with what occurred. Sometimes, pilots get in over their heads, and to the best of our knowledge, that was what happened to both of these cases.

Seeking a sense of proportion, we asked the Mayor, after observing reports that more than two traffic accidents had occurred in his town, in the same 18 month period surrounding the aforementioned aircraft accidents, as to when he was planning the equivalent ordinance to ban automobiles, and mind you, we phrased it quite politely… The conversation turned negative.

Throughout the chat the Mayor proclaimed absolute power over the course of the airport and that he could sell it anytime he wanted to… Even sounding as if this was a threat to counter whatever criticism he was getting for his aircraft ban. Further, as his invective got more and more aggressive, and since he seemed to be victimizing pilots who had little time in type by banning their type of aircraft, I proposed a hypothetical question. And mind you, I was very clear in using the word "hypothetical".

I asked the Mayor that if I were to obtain an aircraft, properly registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, and weighing less than 600 pounds and otherwise meeting the definition implied in his aircraft ban, and being a fairly experienced aviator (and assuring that I had reasonable expertise/experience in time and type), that should I fly into Holly Hill, South Carolina… Would I be subject to arrest or fine or both?

Yeah… You can imagine the reaction.

But what really surprised me was Mayor Chavis's demand that should I do this, I had to immediately notify them before I attempted any such thing, and demanded immediate notification once I was actively engaged in such a pursuit.

This was not a request, this appeared to be a demand.

I explained to him that until my wheels hit the ground at Holly Hill, I was under no compulsion or legal edict to do anything of the kind.

From what I can recall, this is about the period of time that the Mayor indicated that he had elected to record our call, despite no prior notification or my permission. I told him this was not a legal thing to do, and he insisted that since he was in South Carolina -- which was a state that required only one party to consent to such a recording -- that he was within his right to do so. I informed him that I was in Florida, and this was not allowed (Florida is a "two-party" state, and his actions were apparently illegal). The conversation really was one of the most bizarre I've had in quite a while. Mayor Chavis was obviously angry at being challenged… and Holly Hill residents tell me that he does not take criticism or challenges very well. Shortly thereafter, he hung up.

Not too long after this call, I reached out to his office and spoke to one of his clerks, and informed them that under the Freedom Of Information act, that I would like to get a copy of the recording he admitted to making… Whereupon the clerk got off the phone and was heard talking to people in the background for a few minutes. When she returned to the phone, she attempted to tell me that I was required to affect my ‘FOIA’ requests in person, by coming to their offices. I explained that both South Carolina and the federal government in their various ‘FOIA’ equivalents required no such thing, and that the demand appeared to be unlawful.

I shouldn't have been surprised by any of this… In speaking to state aviation officials, it was obvious that Mayor Chavis's actions and attitudes had found no favor there, but since the Holly Hill airport has not accepted state or federal funding at any time that would require them to adhere to any prior agreements, that there were a few limitations in place as to what the city could do with what was admittedly, their property.

At the same time, we've heard from a number of persons who fly out of that airport or who have hangars on the field, that they have been living with the threat of restrictions for quite some time. Several reported that those who criticized the Mayor were threatened with legal consequences, and one person who has a two-seat LSA under construction, which was not flying at that point, was reportedly told by Mayor Chavis to "get that thing off my airport." Again, this is an aircraft that was not flying, under construction, has been under construction well before the airport ban took place, and has been involved in no illegal activity.

The sad part of it all is this… There are quite a few stories from people operating off that airport about the heavy hand of Mayor Billy Chavis. And the airport is not the only story in which aggressive and heavy-handed behavior has been reported.

For the moment, we have come to the unfortunate conclusion that the Holly Hill, South Carolina, airport ban is potentially within the rights of the city to undertake. Where Holly Hill may find itself in some significant trouble is this… The ban is based on flawed conclusions, aviation ignorance, potential bias, and woeful lack of knowledge over the hazards they claim. They made numerous mistakes in getting to the ban as it is, and their actions seem nothing less than deliberately discriminatory against free American aviators who want to conduct themselves at an airport whose primary ‘sin’ is that it has had two accidents in 18 months, enraging the sensibilities of Mayor Chavis. A proper legal argument against discriminatory conduct, inadequate justification, and other issues were suggested to be a few of the proper avenues by which somebody might challenge this apparent craziness.

We have reached out to EAA, who is examining the situation and have promised to let me know what they come up with… But their government affairs people are in touch now with the head of the local EAA Chapter and it is our sincere desire to see EAA use some of its political might to crush what appears to be a wholly discriminatory and improperly conceived bit of rulemaking. We have not reached out to AOPA, and their overly compensated boss Mark Baker (who pulled in over $1.6 Million dollars in just the last year for which we have IRS 990 reports) since our prior experience with them suggests this is a waste of our time... though we wish it were not that way.

And as to our experience thus far, we do believe that the Holly Hill, South Carolina,  airport matter would be best served by someone without the displayed temper, ignorance, biases, and arrogance displayed thus far by Mayor Chavis.

We sincerely hope that cooler heads will eventually prevail, and for the record, the Aero-News Network is referring the illicit recording of our conversation to law enforcement ASAP.

Per Florida statute 934.03, violating the state of Florida's recording law is a Third Degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, and a $5000 fine. Legal authorities within the state inform us that each illegal audio recording is a separate felony -- this means that if someone were to record a number of conversations, that they would've committed an equivalent  number of felonies. Further; if Mayor Chavis is sharing this illicit recording with others, they may have committed an additional felony… And the same goes for anybody who shares it beyond that. Finally; we are making a complaint with the State Attorney of South Carolina and the US Department of Justice in regards to our Freedom Of Information Act requests to get a copy of Mayor Chavis’s illegal recording in order to have all the facts and evidence at our disposal.

Oh yes… in addition to the potential criminal penalties for the aforementioned act, the state of Florida allows as to how a perpetrator may also face civil penalties concerning various invasion of privacy torts… Which may subject them to fines, attorney's fees, and costs of litigation.

Under most circumstances, taking a reasoned, calm, and careful approach to such conflicts is the proper manner to pursue them. However; when all reason appears to have fled the matter, when the histories suggest little ability to adhere to calmer dialogues, and when threats abound to folks who want to do nothing more than enjoy their airplanes, enjoy their hangars, and partake in a unique American freedom, well… That may be the time to take off some of the gloves.

One has to wonder that if the aviation community did a better and more forceful job of standing up for itself, and fighting such wrongs, whether this kind of activity might be aggressively mitigated… Hmm… Maybe its time we found out.

We will keep you informed as to what occurs.



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