Storms, virus ground air traffic

Monday, March 30, 2020
A sea of utility trucks and downed lines Sunday morning in front of Shelbyville Municipal Airport.
T-G Photo by David Melson

Spring weather, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, has grounded much of the air traffic at Shelbyville Municipal Airport, officials said.

“Our traffic is low,” Paul Perry, airport director, said Monday. “We cannot say it is all due to the virus. Some is weather-related. Incoming pilots are stating a low number of aircraft wherever they go. Corporate traffic has almost stopped completely.”

Sunday’s early morning wind storm, which attacked the northern part of Bedford County, didn’t help matters, he said. Perry said the airport weather system lost power before peak gusts could be reported.

Still, after surveying the storm’s damage, he’s getting a good idea of the strength of these recent winds.

“Our last report came at 1:35 a.m. Sunday with winds at 250 degrees at 25 knots or almost 29 mph.”

Little damage

Perry said airport property damage was limited to one hangar door, a light pole and fencing. Airport crews were required to clean up some debris which apparently came from a farm across the street, he said.

“Two businesses on the field had damage. Enterprise lost their car wash bay while Arion Aircraft had the most damage.”

Arion Aircraft is a manufacturer of the popular Lightning Experimental Amateur Built Kit and LS-1 Light Sport Aircraft-all built in the USA.

Arion reported on Facebook Sunday: “Saturday evening a severe thunderstorm came through Shelbyville. We have sustained structural damage to both of our buildings. Currently all power lines within a mile or two of the shop are snapped off like match sticks. All customer aircraft are fine although covered in insulation. The next week will be busy for us dealing with this so please be patient with tech calls and orders, we will try our best.”

Flight school grounded

For years, veteran pilot Joe Roberts’ life in Bedford County has revolved around an exciting spring full of blue skies and flight training. Poor spring weather and the virus have affected his ground school attendance, he said Monday.

He and wife, Linda, estimate their Shelbyville Flight Academy has suffered a 50 percent decline in business from this same time last year, due to those factors.

“We’ve just had a tough spring,” he said Monday. “It’s as much the weather . . . as the coronavirus.”

While Saturday morning’s wind storm also didn’t help the current climate at the airport, Roberts said he’s not aware of any damage to his planes.

“One of the hangars lost a door. To my knowledge no planes were damaged. I would have gotten a call.”

Staying the course

Despite national odds or statistics, the Roberts seem steadfast in doing what they love, which is sharing with people the art of flying.

The academy started another ground flight school in January, which was scheduled to run for 12 to 14 weeks. Classes are usually held on Tuesday nights and run for 12-14 weeks, but due to the coronavirus, students are not attending right now.

Roberts, who serves as the local academy’s chief flight instructor, said he’s optimistic that local aeronautics will return to more normalcy soon at Shelbyville Municipal Airport.

“People will be ready to get their feet back on the ground.”