AOPA forces changes in San Jose noise ordinance

September 9, 2004

AOPA forces changes in San Jose noise ordinance

Capping a multi-year effort, AOPA successfully forced San Jose Norman Y. Mineta International Airport (SJC) to abandon its discriminatory, weight-based noise curfew.

"We understand that noise is a growing issue with many airports, and we always encourage our members to be good neighbors, 'fly friendly,' and reduce their noise footprint," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports.

"There is a fair and legal way to address airport noise, and we support that," Dunn said. "But any airport that tries to use discriminatory measures that unfairly target general aviation is going to have a huge problem with AOPA."

San Jose had passed an ordinance mandating a curfew of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. for jet aircraft weighing more than 75,000 pounds. That was just one of many things the city has done to make SJC an unfriendly place for general aviation.

So in January 2000, AOPA filed an informal complaint with the FAA alleging that the city was in violation of its federal grant agreements.

AOPA pointed out that, by banning aircraft based on weight, the ordinance in fact allowed noisier aircraft to use the airport at night while prohibiting access by newer, quieter aircraft.

Since aircraft weight has no direct relationship to aircraft noise, the curfew was discriminatory against a class of aviation users. Federal law prohibits that.

The city said AOPA's complaint wasn't valid. But in the intervening time, the city "expressed its desire to operate the San Jose International Airport in compliance with applicable federal requirements and proposed to restructure its curfew from a weight-based regulation to a regulation based directly upon noise emissions," the FAA said in a recent letter responding to AOPA's complaint. The airport worked with the FAA to change its curfew, and "it would appear that the city's action in replacing its weight-based restriction with a noise-based restriction provides AOPA with its requested relief," the FAA said.

But San Jose isn't the only place where AOPA has challenged what it believes is unjust discrimination against general aviation based on noise.

AOPA has asked the FAA to investigate Massport's nighttime surcharge at Laurence G. Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts. AOPA has for years asked Massport to stop the nighttime surcharge, which is intended to reduce noise. AOPA argues that the surcharge is not related to actual aircraft noise, but to aircraft weight. In other words, a quieter but heavier aircraft may have to pay a higher fee than a smaller but louder one. The FAA investigation continues.

Earlier this year AOPA filed a formal complaint against the city of Pompano Beach, Florida, contending that the city's limitation of certain flight operations at Pompano Airpark (PMP) because of noise was a thinly disguised attempt to stop flight training at the airport.

Another informal complaint is pending concerning a weight-based and engine-type noise ordinance at Palm Beach County Park (LNA) Airport near West Palm Beach, Florida.

And the threat of AOPA action forced city officials in Oceanside, California, to work with the FAA to develop ordinances that would meet federal muster.

September 9, 2004