Washington Couple Defends Their Wing Walking Business Despite Recent Lawsuit and FAA Investigation

Image Source: Mason Wing Walking via Seattle Times Photo Source: Mason Wing Walking via Seattle Times

Adrenaline junkies can make their way to Sequim, Washington, on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula and experience a thrill ride like no other. The business Mason Wing Walking will take you up 3,500 feet into the air on an open cockpit propeller bi-plane and allow you to walk across the plane’s wings as you soak in an experience few people can say they’ve done.

The views are undoubtedly spectacular and the feeling is literally quite like nothing you can experience down on solid ground. However, a recent lawsuit and a new FAA investigation are threatening to shut the operation down.

The business operators Mike and Marilyn Mason were served with a lawsuit last year after neighbors grew tired of the noise from the flights. The couple lives in a small rural community called Blue Ribbon Farms in the Olympic Peninsula. The community is home to many former pilots who have small airplanes of their own. However, they say that over the years, the noise from the wing-walking flights has disrupted the community. According to Mason, in 2021 the business grew extremely successful with over 500 wing walking flights taking place.

Community Board Chair Mark Long shared that the company’s boom in business also brought with it a boom in continuous airplane noise. “That was just way too many. It became kind of obnoxious,” Long shared.

The couple operated their business at home. They conducted three-hour training sessions in their personal hangar before they took to the local airstrip to take passengers up into the sky.

In response to the noise complaints, the community board asked the Masons to stop using the local airstrip, citing that the covenant rules prohibited community members from using the airstrip for “commercial purposes.” This prompted the couple to move their operations three miles away to the Sequim Valley Airport. The couple continued to conduct pieces of training in their personal hangar, however.

In addition to the disruptive noise, the Blue Ribbon community board expressed in their lawsuit their concern that if an accident were to occur, they feared they could be held liable.

The community board highlighted additional concerns including the fact that no insurance company would cover the wing walking business. Mike Mason shared, “There’s no requirement to have insurance,” adding, “We offered to indemnify them.”

The community board also brought up issues regarding FAA compliance and that their commercial operations were a violation of the homeowner’s covenant. However, the Masons pushed back saying that their flight operations are “noncommercial.” The Masons explained that they only bill their customers for the three-hour ground training that takes place before the flight. The wing walking that happens after the training is “free of charge.”

Unfortunately, this creative argument did not fly with Clallam County Superior Court. In October a jury ruled that the couple was in violation of the Blue Ribbon residents’ covenant and that they were barred from using both their hangar or the airstrip to conduct their wing-walking business. The couple is currently appealing the decision.

Amid this legal back and forth, the FAA has prompted its own investigation into the wing-walking operation. The Masons had previously been granted permission to fly inside “an aerobatic practice area.” However, after the FAA received numerous noise complaints, the agency withdrew its permission for use of that area.

The initial investigation prompted by the FAA examined whether Mason was exempted from standard passenger-carrying regulations. The FAA eventually found that there was no violation; however, Mason subsequently received a second investigation notice from the FAA. This notice takes issue with FAA regulations that require each occupant of an aircraft to have a parachute during aerobatic flights. Currently, the wing walkers that Mason takes up do not wear a parachute during the flight.

Mason has shared that an FAA official assured him that once a wing walker steps out of the plane cockpit, they are no longer considered an “occupant” of the flight, and therefore the regulation shouldn’t apply.

In the meantime, Mason and his wife stand firm in defense of their operation. Mike Mason expressed to the Seattle Times his faith in his business. “We’re busy all the time. We bring a lot of joy to people,” he shared, “I don’t feel too threatened.”

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate from James Madison University, where she studied English and Education. Residing in Central Virginia with her husband and two young daughters, she balances her workaholic tendencies with a passion for travel, exploring the world with her family.
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