AOPA seeks to be ‘friend of court’ in jet-ban case

November 2, 2009

AOPA on Oct. 29 requested permission from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to participate as a friend of the court in an appeal by the city of Santa Monica, Calif., of an FAA decision that the city could not ban certain jet traffic at Santa Monica Airport.

In March 2008, Santa Monica city officials adopted an ordinance to ban Category C and D jets (such as Gulfstreams and some Citations and Challengers) from operating at the airport. Officials cited safety issues as the motivation, despite the fact that the city has rebuffed numerous suggestions from the FAA to enhance safety areas around the airport.

AOPA and the FAA have opposed the ban, and the FAA issued a cease and desist order on April 24, the day the ordinance was to go into effect. Later, the U.S. District Court granted a temporary restraining order which has successfully prevented the ban from being enforced so far.

Now Santa Monica is appealing the FAA’s July 8 decision that the city had no authority to ban jet operations and that doing so would violate the grant assurances the city agreed to when accepting federal Airport Improvement Program funding for the airport.

“The implications of this case extend beyond the instant dispute between the city and the FAA, and any decision by this court could potentially affect how similar circumstances are treated elsewhere,” wrote AOPA legal counsel Kathy Yodice, in the motion to serve as a friend of the court. “If the city of Santa Monica is allowed to implement its desired bans, such precedent could provide airport sponsors nationwide with a basis to implement restrictions at a publicly funded airport, an action that should and always has been within the exclusive province of the FAA.”

Yodice explained that as a friend of the court, AOPA would be able to help the court understand the federal airport grant process and grant assurances, and their impact on the operation of airports. The association also could explain the impact of the ban and the safety and efficiency concerns being disputed.

AOPA’s upmost concern in the case is ensuring that a dangerous precedent isn’t set that would allow local governments to ban operations at public airports. As a friend of the court, Yodice asserted that the association would seek to make sure “that any decision in this case would not have unintended adverse consequences to future matters.”