Mosquito plane still grounded
It may only be about nine weeks before Orange County Mosquito Control receives final certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to get its plane flying.
Mosquito Control Director Patrick Beebe told commissioners Monday his office was waiting on the FAA to send word on plans for final inspection of the county’s aerial spraying program.
It will be the county’s final administration certification for the spraying program. Commissioners, however – their offices besieged with phone calls and complaints – said the program’s progress was too little, too late.
The FAA must also approve designated landing areas in the event pilot Patrick Bourke has to “ditch” the plane – a 1981 Cessna – in an emergency.
“Hopefully that will never happen,” Beebe said. “In the event that we do need it, we must have a plan in place,” he said. Bourke has been flying about 30 years.
Progress was bogged down by a previous inspection, Beebe said.
“There were some things that needed to be corrected, and actually they weren’t corrected or worked on until January,” he said. “Between everything going on and the two hurricanes, it got by us; and there was no way to set up [Bourke’s] office with all that stuff going on. We had jackhammers in there knocking walls out, and sheetrock and all that stuff.”
But referring to recent progress he added, “We’re in good shape. I have no doubt that we’re going to have any problems.”
Not unsympathetic to Beebe was Precinct 1 Commissioner (and private pilot) David Dubose. “Let me tell you about dealing with the FAA,” he said. “It’s like dealing with FEMA, only 10 times worse.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose said he has also dealt with the FAA, some of those times being, “ … not particularly pleasant. I know that if they’re not happy, you’re not happy.”
However, he added, “This court is not happy the plane is not flying.”
Dubose’s precinct territory includes the Orange County Airport.
“None of want to run mosquito control,” he told Beebe. “That’s your job. And I know the ground crews out there are doing a great job. Anything we can do to help get this plane in the air – let us know. We want it to fly, we want it to spray, we want it to be safe and we want it to be legal.”
It was also suggested that U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady’s office get involved.
“I don’t see how it could hurt,” Beebe said. “I feel like I’ve pushed and leaned as far as I could go. I’ve found in dealing with regulators over the years – the last thing you want to do is make enemies.”
“Let us be the bad guys,” John Dubose said.
County Judge Carl Thibodeaux added that he appreciated the work put in by Beebe and his staff, however, expressed his own frustration.
“We’ve had the project for two years; we’ve had the plane for one year and it’s still on the ground,” he said. “It’s just not acceptable.”