Colombian chopper pilots training at airport

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Colombian military pilots are in Carson City training in high-altitude helicopter flying and night-vision goggle use, according to Carson City Airport Manager Tim Rowe.

Rowe said a company out of Florida, Bristow Academy, signed a federal contract with El Aero Services, a fixed base operator at the airport, to use it as a base for training the Colombians.

"They're all pilots who are training for (fighting) drugs using night-vision goggles and mountain flying - dangerous work," he said.

There have been complaints, however.

Comstock Mobile Home Park resident Keith Berry said he was awakened around 11 p.m. last week by a helicopter which was circling the airport at a low altitude, and that the activity continued until after 1 a.m.

Berry believes that the activity should be classed as a violation of the city's noise ordinance.

"In my opinion, this situation is going to cause a great deal of dissatisfaction with the several hundreds of residents who reside in this park, once it is learned that this nightly disturbance will continue for a lengthy duration of time," he said.

He said he was informed that the airport is classified as a public service airport and is open to the public for use 24 hours a day.

The six-month contract was approved by the Airport Authority, Rowe said.

"As long as they're adhering to all the rules and regulations, they're OK," Rowe said. "We've tried to work out a flying plan and a pattern for them to stay just north of the runway over the industrial area to avoid residential areas, although there have been a few incidents where they've strayed."

Rowe said the pilots belong to an anti-drug program and are being trained in night maneuvers to combat drug activity in their country. The training cannot start earlier in the evening due to technical issues associated with the night-vision technology.

Some residents, however, are pleased with the alliance.

Linda Curtis said she and her husband were shopping in Walmart in north Carson City when they noticed about five men in military-type coveralls.

"I became quite curious and asked one the gentlemen where they were from. The answer was that they were from Colombia and were doing some training here at our local Carson airport," Curtis said.

Chris Highley sent an email about the men.

"(This is) a great group of guys - smart and very professional. This training operation is bringing in a pretty good influx of money to the local economy - upward of $300,000 (according to) one of the members," Highley said.

The Colombians did not received permission to be interviewed for this story.

El Aero General Manager John Kelly said a new group of 36 comes in every three weeks for schooling, which culminates in a helicopter flight-training period using helicopters which were trucked to Carson City from Florida and assembled here.

Training will continue through the end of the year.

"We're glad to have their business. They're buying a lot of fuel and groceries, renting apartments, and other things," Kelly said.


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