June 3, 2008
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is battling precedent-setting airport curfews and noise restrictions across the nation. Last month alone, AOPA filed actions against three airports that are improperly attempting to ban certain aircraft.
"Although these controversies often involve business jets, they are precedent-setters," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "Today, the ban is on some jets or large aircraft. Tomorrow, it could well be Bonanzas."
The three airports included in August's actions are Palm Beach County Park Airport (Lantana) and Naples Municipal Airport in Florida, and Flying Cloud Airport near Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Palm Beach County has implemented an ordinance prohibiting "pure turbo-jet aircraft" and "all aircraft weighing in excess of 12,500 pounds engaged in cargo operations" from "parking, landing, or taking off" at the Lantana airport (LNA). The airport authority has even threatened to prosecute the owner of a Czech-made L-39 "warbird" currently at the airport for painting.
The ordinance is part of a section of noise regulations adopted by the county.
"But any restriction must be related to actual aircraft noise and not based on arbitrary weight classifications or type of use," said Dunn. "Such restrictions are unjustly discriminatory, and that violates federal law."
AOPA has filed an informal complaint with the FAA, asking the agency to investigate the ordinance.
AOPA reminded the FAA that the airport has accepted more than $2.4 million in federal grants from the user-financed Airport Improvement Program (AIP). In accepting that money, the airport sponsor also agreed to keep the airport open to all classes of users without unjust discrimination.
"There is no reasonable rationale for banning aircraft based strictly on its propulsion or by what's being carried aboard the airplane," said Dunn.
The association asked the FAA to respond within 90 days. (A copy of AOPA's informal complaint is available online.)
On Florida's west coast, the city of Naples is proposing a 24-hour ban on "Stage 2" business jets at Naples Municipal Airport. (Stage 2 refers to the official classification of aircraft types by their noise output. Older business jets such as the Lear 25 and Gulfstream II are classified among Stage 2 aircraft. Newer, quieter business jets are categorized Stage 3—currently the quietest category.)
AOPA filed eight pages of technical analysis and criticism of Naples' "Part 161" study, which attempts to justify the ban. AOPA said the study was technically flawed and did not meet legal requirements for such studies.
"AOPA is deeply disappointed by the shortsighted and detrimental approach the Naples Airport Authority has taken to address the concerns of a moderately impacted, vocal minority of residents surrounding the airport," said Dunn.
"The Naples Airport Authority is supposed to protect the airport for the use and benefit of the entire general public, not arbitrarily restrict access to a class of users based on flawed logic and unsubstantiated evidence."
The association also pointed out the failure of local zoning authorities to protect the airport. Three years ago, the FAA approved a plan to create a land-use buffer zone around the airport. But local officials actually encouraged development of more residential units close to the airport.
(A copy of AOPA's comments on the Naples Municipal Airport Part 161 study is available online.)
Flying Cloud Airport (FCM) near Minneapolis, Minnesota, has also done a Part 161 study to support a nighttime ban on jet aircraft not meeting Stage 3 certification requirements. The airport has an existing ban on aircraft weighing more than 20,000 pounds. AOPA is opposing both.
In this case, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (which owns FCM and six other area airports) was forced into proposing the ban by local communities that wouldn't approve a runway extension project without it.
Again, AOPA faulted the study as "simplistic and incomplete," noting that it failed to meet both statutory and regulatory requirements. The study proposed a solution to a problem that doesn't exist: There are no Stage 2 aircraft using the airport.
AOPA also said the measure's weight limitation was a violation of the airport's grant assurances. Any noise-reduction measures must be related to actual aircraft noise and not arbitrarily related to aircraft weight.
AOPA asked that the airport change its ordinance banning aircraft by weight and that it redo the Part 161 study to comply with federal regulations. (A copy of AOPA's comments on the Flying Cloud Airport Part 161 study is available online.)
"If any of these airports succeed with their bans, it will set a dangerously flawed precedent.
"Communities throughout the country will attempt to impose access restrictions that will ultimately affect all aircraft, from jets to piston-engine singles," said Dunn. "That's why AOPA has taken on so many of these battles."
AOPA is also fighting a weight-based access restriction at San Jose (California) International Airport and a nighttime operations surcharge at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based outside Washington, D.C., represents more than 360,000 pilots who own or fly three quarters of the nation's 206,000 general aviation aircraft. General aviation aircraft comprise 96 percent of the total U.S. civilian air fleet.
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