When they decided to start their business, veteran skydivers Chuck Owen and Kenny Pugh from Atlanta were looking for an unsaturated market. Donald Trump may put a wrench in their plans.
“We were looking for an area with a high populace that was underserved,” Owen says.
They ended up at Hunterdon County and the Alexandria Airport in New Jersey, where they established Skydive Jersey. The rolling hills and endless acres of farmland an hour drive from the populated suburbs of Essex, Morris, Union and Middlesex counties.
The company, which began operating in 2011 with the colleagues as instructors, has grown with eight full-time instructors and 24 staff members for packing, harnessing for tandem jumps, filming and office management. They also have a rented 14-seat Cessna Caravan, which costs $170,000 a year, that allows them to take up 140 people a day during the busy season June to September.
“It took us 2½ years of building our business to lease a plane of that caliber,” Owen says.
One of their neighbors is Donald Trump, who frequents his Trump National Golf Club Bedminster for a good part of the summer, which forces the company to ground the plane. They finally decided to spend $65,000 to end the lease, which led to a “cumulative loss” for the business.
“We couldn’t justify the expense,” Owen says.
Without the larger plane, they can only manage 90 jumps on days they can fly.
“The staff has been decimated,” Owen says. “We went from eight full-time instructors to three, and a support staff of 24 to 12. When he was elected president, I never thought it would impact us the way it has.”
Skydive Jersey is thirteen miles from the Bedminster golf course, which is in the 30-mile temporary flight restriction zone when Trump visits.
“It never occurred to us that he would be in Bedminster so much,” he says.
The flight restrictions were unexpected. The company wasn’t informed of the changes by the Secret Service until the middle of June last year.
In an email to NJ Advance Media, Jeffrey Adams of the Secret Service reiterated that “due to safety and security concerns, skydiving is not permitted within an established TFR zone.”
With no other alternative for a drop zone, the company’s plane was grounded last year while Trump was in Bedminster for 10 weekends during their busiest skydiving season. There were so many cancellations that it was impossible to reschedule.
Last July, Owen wrote the Secret Service and proposed having his planes ascend north, farther from Trump National. Their proposal was rejected.
In addition, Reps. Leonard Lance, R-7th Dist., and Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., wrote a letter to Secret Service director Randolph Alles, informing him that the 20 general aviation airports, 28 flying schools, and 10 clubs, as well as businesses like Skydive Jersey, produced $2.4 billion for the local economy, and they needed relief from the TFRs.
“We have put language in the Senate and House appropriations bill asking that these businesses receive funding,” Lance says.
This summer, the president spent seven weekends at the country club. The company says they will survive the season, however, if Trump is re-elected, Owen, says, “I don’t think we can sustain this for six more summers.”