February 24, 2004
Feb. 24, 2004 - The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association on Tuesday provided initial support to four Massachusetts pilots - all AOPA members - facing a lawsuit filed by a few residents. The suit alleges that the noise signature from the aerobatics performed by the pilots caused significant harm; they are seeking approximately $1 million in damages. The pilots are based at various airports, some 20 miles from the homes of the litigants.
"This is potentially an issue that could affect all pilots engaged in any type of air commerce - from a Cub to a 747," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We are fully prepared to take this through the federal system if necessary.
"A small group of vocal protesters simply cannot be allowed to usurp airspace regulation from the federal government. Pilots who operate in accordance with the federal aviation regulations, as these four have - even by the admission of the litigants, should not be targeted for following the rules."
The four pilots face a lawsuit brought by a group of area citizens calling itself "Stop The Noise." The group is headed by a lawyer who owns a home in Ayer, Massachusetts, a rural area west of Boston. He claims that the legal practice flights violate the group's property rights and create a public health hazard due to noise pollution. The group has recently expanded its scope and has also targeted motorcycles and Sport pilots. To get a sense of just how fanatical an anti-aviation radical can be - and how pilots are being maligned, spend just a few minutes browsing their Web site at www.stopthenoise.org.
At a meeting with the defendants, AOPA President Phil Boyer, AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn, and AOPA General Counsel John Yodice presented their attorneys with extensive legal research - done at the request of the attorneys - to help defend the pilots against the nuisance allegation. The association also made a significant donation toward the costs of the defendants' legal fees and plans to file a "friend of the court" brief.
As Gary Arber, a Brookline, Massachusetts, attorney who represents a client involved in the case noted, "The importance of this case cannot be overstated." Arber, an AOPA member, an AOPA Legal Services panel attorney, and the owner of an Arrow, continued: "There are potentially dangerous precedents to be set if we were to ignore this case or through any concessions that we might make. My personal feeling is that this case must be fought - and fought hard."
The pilots named in the suit strongly contend that they conducted their aerobatic training flights in full compliance with FAR 91.303 by not operating over congested areas and staying 1,500 feet or more above ground level. Even assuming the four pilots prevail in the lawsuit against them, they face potentially thousands of dollars each in legal fees. AOPA made a donation today to help defray those costs.
While in Ayer, Boyer also met with the managing editor and the staff writer covering the story for the local newspaper, the Public Spirit , which has written several articles covering this suit. Along with Yodice, Dunn, and Jeff Myers, executive vice president Communications, Boyer provided a comprehensive overview of the GA community, including statistics on the economic benefits of Hanscom Field (about $100 million a year to the area), GA in general (about $1 billion a year to the state), and even key statistics regarding the benefits of air shows and their aerobatics.
"Because the anti-noise group is local, we felt it was important to make sure the Public Spirit's editorial board be familiar with general aviation," said Boyer. "We wanted to make sure the managing editor and writer understood how practice areas are chosen and why."
Both Managing Editor Kate Walsh and writer Don Eriksson were very open to the AOPA presentation and point of view. Both expressed a new appreciation of GA and the issues involved. "As a young girl I used to lie in the grass and watch the airplanes pass by. I loved the sound - and still do," Walsh said.
AOPA has long advocated pilots taking into account the feelings and sensibilities of airport neighbors, as well as those over whose property they fly. The association produced a video called Flying Friendly, which explains what pilots can do to minimize their noise signature and keep their neighbors happy. The video is available to both individual pilots and pilot clubs. AOPA urges all pilots to watch the video and then be good neighbors.
"Pilots who fly according to federal regulations should be commended, not penalized," said Boyer. "AOPA will stand behind these pilots and, as always, will apply appropriate leverage to defend general aviation."
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